Alex Enumah in Abuja
The Abuja division of the Federal High Court Monday transferred the case filed by the Nigerian Police Force against 23 Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) officials to the Port Harcourt division of the court for continuation of trial, citing issue of jurisdiction.
Justice John Tsoho, who gave the order for the transfer in a ruling he delivered yesterday, also held that there was no insecurity in Rivers State to prevent the trial of the accused outside the jurisdiction where the alleged crime took place.
The police had arraigned the officials on March 14, 2017, on a seven-count charge bordering on allegations of receiving N360million as bribe from the Rivers State Government in order to compromise the results of the December 10, 2016, re-run parliamentary elections in the state.
In his ruling, Justice Tsoho held that the argument of the police that the insecurity in Rivers State would affect the trial was not tenable.
He said there was no evidence placed before the court to show pervasive insecurity in the state.
The judge further held that the video clips and photographs tendered by the police were incidences that happened before the December 10 rerun elections.
Speaking further, Tsoho maintained that the responsibility of providing security in any part of the country rests on the security operatives and not the court.
â€œI havenâ€™t found out that Rivers State has become ungovernable based on the alleged security situation in the state.
â€œSo, based on Section 22 of the Federal High Court Act, the case has been transferred to the Port Harcourt division of the Federal High Court.
â€œAlso, in line with Section 93 (1 & 2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and Section 45 of the Federal High Court Act, which states that the trial of a case should take place where the offence was committed, I hereby transfer the case,â€ the judge held.
The defence counsel, led by Ahmed Raji (SAN), had on the last adjourned date urged the court to decline hearing of the charge on grounds of territorial jurisdiction.
Alternatively, the defence asked the court for an order transferring the matter to the PortHarcourt division of the court.
The defence said the prosecution has not placed any evidence before the court to support the reason for charging the defendants before a court in Abuja for offences allegedly committed in Port-Harcourt, the state capital.
â€œWe are challenging the courtâ€™s jurisdiction because all the alleged acts took place in Port-Harcourt and none of the 1st to 20th defendants live here in Abujaâ€,
They also had argued that the defendants trial at the Federal High Court in Abuja was in breach of the Constitution and the Criminal Justice Act.
The prosecuting counsel, Aliyu Alilu, however, argued that there was insecurity in Rivers State, which could interfere with the trial.
Alilu urged the court to dismiss the defendants application challenging the courtâ€™s jurisdiction as it lacks merit.
However, Justice Muhammed Idris of a Federal High Court in Lagos will on May 24, decide whether or not to transfer the case file of an official of INEC, Christian Nwosu, who was accused of receiving the sum of N30 million from a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Allison-Madueke, to compromise the 2015 general election to the Chief Judge for re-assignment to another judge.
Nwosu had earlier admitted collecting the money in a plea bargain arrangement he had with the anti-graft agency.
However, he had to back out following the rejection of the terms of agreement by the judge.
Nwosu was subsequently re-arraigned alongside another INEC official, Tijani Bashir, on an amended charge by the EFCC.
They however, pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Following their re-arraignment, EFCCâ€™s lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo, urged Justice Idris to transfer the case file to the Chief Judge of the court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, for re-assignment to another judge.
According to him, it is trite that a judge who had heard and rejected a plea bargain agreement of a defendant can no longer preside over the matter in the event that the defendant decide to change his plea.
He said though the commission has full confidence in the ability of the judge to handle the case, it would be in the interest of justice to allow another judge take over the matter in line with the provisions of Section 270(15) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA).