Justice Rilwan Aikawa of the Federal High Court in Lagos wednesday refused the application filed by the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, to be joined in the money laundering charge against two members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Kwara State, Mr. Dele Belgore (SAN) and a former Minister of National Planning, Professor Abubakar Suleiman.
The judge said the application was not only a misuse of court processes, but a deliberate ploy to run away from justice in the United Kingdom.
Delivering a ruling on Alison-Maduekeâ€™s application, the judge held: â€œThis is not the proper time to join the applicant as a defendant. The applicant has aroused my curiosity as to why she waited this long before coming up with the application for joinder.
â€œThe court lacks the power to interfere with the powers of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF). The application for joinder is lacking in merit and same is hereby dismissed.â€
The EFCC had named the former petroleum minister as an accomplice in the criminal trial of the duo.
She was however, described as being â€œat large.â€
EFCC counsel, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, had opened the case for the prosecution and had already called two witnesses in the ongoing trial.
But Allison-Madueke, through her lawyer, Mr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), urged the court to compel the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to extradite her from the UK to defend the charges.
The judge then adjourned the case to hear the motion for joinder by Allison-Madueke.
At last sitting of the court, Ikpeazu urged the court to grant his application for joinder of the applicant in the sole interest of justice.
He began: â€œMy lord, we have a motion dated September 29 and an affidavit of 16 paragraphs, together with a written address, which we rely on.
â€œWe have received the counter affidavit of counsel, but there remains yet, one consideration which should touch conscience of parties.
â€œIn four counts of the charge, the applicantâ€™s name was mentioned clearly, and there is no alteration to the fact that she has been charged; it simply suggests that it is a consummated complaint.â€
According to Ikpeazu, by the definition section of 494(1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), a defendant is any person against whom a complaint or charge is made, while a charge refers to an allegation that any named person has committed an offence.
He argued that from count one to count four, the name of the applicant was mentioned as an accomplice, adding that it would be in the interest of justice to join her in the charge.
Persuasively citing the authority of FRN vs Jide Omokore, FHC/Abj/CR/121/2016, which he argued bears similarity with the instant case, he noted that the judge had struck out the charges on similar grounds.
He submitted: â€œWe will have no objections if the applicantâ€™s name is extracted from the charge, then, trial can proceed. Otherwise, she should be included in the charge.
â€œI know that she will be happy to come and face the trial.â€
Objecting to the motion for joinder, counsel to the first accused, Mr. E. O Shofunde (SAN), informed the court of his counter affidavit filed in opposition to the application.
Firstly, Shofunde argued that the applicant was not a necessary party to the suit since in the end, the court would only decide the guilt or innocence of the first and second accused who were charged.
Again, he contended that by the combined provisions of sections 216(2), 221, 273, 274, and 494(1) of the ACJA, only the prosecution could exercise the power to amend a process during trial.
He argued that it would be incongruous for any other party to seek an amendment of a criminal charge, adding that the court will not make an order in vain.
Besides, the counsel argued that it would amount to a waste of precious judicial time if that amendment is allowed since progress has been made in the case.
In his response, the prosecutor, Oyedepo, hinged his argument in line with the first defence counsel, and vehemently opposed the application for joinder.
Citing the judicial authority of Ewenla Vs State, he noted that where trial has commenced, the state can only amend a charge for the purposes of adding offences and not defendants.
Oyedepo submitted that if an amendment is allowed at this stage, it would occasion a miscarriage of justice.
He added that several attempts were initially made to interrogate the applicant, but that she fled to London after she got wind of the move by the EFCC, and has since then, carefully avoided any meeting with the commission.
According to Oyedepo, it is misconceived and too late in the day for the applicant to now seek to be joined in the charge when she is already under investigation in London.
He submitted that whenever the applicant returns to Nigeria, she can still be tried, as time does not run against the prosecution in criminal trial.
After listening to counsel arguments, Justice Aikawa fixed November 1 for ruling.
In the amended charge, Diezani was alleged to have conspired with Belgore and Sulaiman on or about March 27, 2015, to directly take possession of the sum of N450 million, which they reasonably ought to have known forms part of proceeds of unlawful act.
The trio were also alleged to have taken the said funds in cash, which exceeded the amount authorised by law, without going through the financial institutions.
Belgore and Sulaiman were also alleged to have paid the sum of N50 million to one, Sheriff Shagaya, without going through any financial institution.
The offences are said to have contravened the provisions of to Sections 15(2)(d), 1(a), 16(d) and 18 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012.