Innoson Chairman Challenges Jurisdiction of Lagos Court

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• Vows not to honour court’s summons

Christopher Isiguzo in Enugu

The Chairman of Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing (IVM), Chief Innocent Chukwuma, yesterday challenged the jurisdiction of the Lagos State High Court to hear the forgery suit brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Chukwuma in a statement signed by the Head, Corporate Communications of IVM, Mr. Cornel Osigwe, also insisted that he would not appear before the court until all the pending applications before the court were dispensed with.

Counsel to the Innoson owner, Chief George Uwechue (SAN) had led a team of lawyers including Sally Uwechue Mbanefo, Prof. J. N. Mbadugha and George N. Uwechue at the resumed hearing of the matter at the court on Wednesday.
They equally had vehemently opposed the arraignment of Chukwuma which was the only business of the day before the presiding Judge- Justice Mojisola Dada.

According to Osigwe, the pending applications include; a motion that the court recuse or disqualify itself from further conduct of the proceedings; motion challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear the suit being that the charge is an abuse of process because a similar charge on the same subject matter is pending at the Federal High Court in Lagos between the same parties in charge no FHC/l/565c/2015; a motion that EFCC cannot be heard in any application until it withdraws the charge given a pending motion against it at the Court of Appeal praying that it be restrained from filing any charge in respect of the same subject matter of the charge that was struck out until the determination of the appeal against the court’s order striking out the previous charge- Charge No. ID/197c/2013; a motion pending at the Court of Appeal to stay commencement of proceedings and execution of the court’s order of January 17, 2018; and a motion for stay of execution of the bench warrant issued on February 9, 2018 against Chief Innocent Chukwuma pending the appeal against the court’s order of Bench Warrant issued on February 9, 2018 and the court’s assumption of jurisdiction to entertain the charge – suit,” the statement noted.

The team of lawyers had also argued that since the jurisdiction of the court is in contest, that Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal held in Abacha v. State (2002) 11 NWLR (Pt. 779) 437, Igbeke v. FRN (2015) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1445) 28, Ezeze v. State (2004) 14 NWLR (Pt. 894) 491 that the appearance of the defendant is no longer mandatory and necessary where jurisdiction of the court is challenged.

Furthermore, he stated that the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal held in the aforesaid cases that in the circumstance, the court owes the defendant a duty to safeguard him from oppression, prejudice and the rigours of criminal prosecution until that challenge to jurisdiction is determined one way or the other.

They further challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear the matter on the grounds that the charge is an abuse of court process because the same charge on the same subject matter, transactions and issues is pending at the Federal High Court before the present charge in this court.

According to them, “If the defendant comes to court, the court remands him in prison and thereafter the court discovers that it lacks the jurisdiction to entertain the charge – suit, who then will compensate the defendant for going to prison and that is why the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal held that the court owes the defendant a duty to safeguard him from the rigours of prejudice, oppression and the criminal prosecution once issue of jurisdiction is raised.”

The statement further recalled that Innoson had on February 12, 2018, petitioned the National Judicial Council (NJC) to investigate the circumstance leading to Justice Mojisola Dada of Lagos State High Court issuing a bench warrant against Chukwuma and ordering his arrest.