Four months after it concluded its case against Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Friday asked an Ikeja High Court to strike out the case for lack of jurisdiction.
The commission said that the charge, which it brought against the former judge of the Federal High Court, was not in line with the guidelines of the National Judicial Council (NJC).
Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, EFCC lead prosecution counsel, said that the commission conceded that the court lacked the jurisdiction to hear the suit based on an Appeal Court’s decision in the case of Justice Nganjuwa versus Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that while delivering his judgment in the case of Nganjuwa, Justice Obaseki Adejumo of the Court of Appeal had held that EFCC does not have power to investigate and prosecute serving judicial officers.
Adejumo said that NJC must first strip Nganjuwa of his judicial standing before he could be charged to court.
The Court of Appeal judge further held that serving judicial officers could only be prosecuted for offences such as murder, stealing done outside the discharge of their duties.
According to him, once judicial officers allegedly commit any offence in the discharge of their duties, they must be tried first by NJC.
During Friday’s proceedings, Oyedepo via a written address dated Dec. 13, 2018, said: “In urging your lordship to strike out the charge, we concede that in this case, we have done our bit in view of the fact that the decision in Nganjuwa’s case is still the law today.
“We state that the charge was not brought in line with the procedure, and this proceeding is deemed not to have existed in the first place.
“I pray my lord not to be persuaded by the submission of the learned Chief Robert Clarke (SAN) to discharge and acquit the first defendant (Ofili-Ajumogobia).
“Section 73 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) is not applicable here, as we have not made an application attempting to withdraw the charge or information.”
Earlier, Clarke, Ofili-Ajumogobia’s counsel, though an application dated Nov. 27, 2018, prayed the court to discharge and acquit her.
“Where evidence has been adduced by the prosecution and they have closed their case, the consequential order to make as a result of jurisdiction is to discharge the accused whether on merit or simplicita.
“Where the question of jurisdiction is raised before the prosecution called witnesses, the court should discharge simplicita. Once the defendant is made to take a plea, the court must discharge him from the plea.
“However where the issue of jurisdiction has not been raised before the defendant has taken his plea and endured the strain of trial, the court should discharge and acquit the defendant.
“I urge the court to discharge and acquit the first defendant. According to Section 73(1) of the ACJL; what has happened in this case is a withdrawal by agreeing that my lordship has no jurisdiction,” Clarke said.
Mr Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), counsel to Godwin Obla (SAN), charged along with Ofili-Ajumogobia, prayed the court to separate the charges of the defendants.
“I submit that the second defendant (Obla) is not a judicial officer covered by the decision in Ngajuwa’s case.
“The subject matter is within the jurisdiction of the court and the second defendant is within the jurisdiction of the court; so, the issue of jurisdiction does not apply to the second defendant,” Adedipe said.
Justice Hakeem Oshodi adjourned the case until April 16 for ruling.
NAN reports that Ofili-Ajumogobia, had on Dec. 14 slumped within the court premises when she arrived for her trial.
During proceedings on Friday, she had to walk with the aid of a stick.
The EFCC charged her with illegally receiving $793,800 in several tranches from different sources from 2012 to 2015.
The anti-graft agency charged Obla (SAN) with offering N5 million as gratification to Ofili-Ajumogobia so as to pervert the course of justice.
The offences are contrary to Sections 64(1), 82(a) and 69(1) (a) of the Criminal Laws of Lagos State No. 11, 2011.
The EFCC closed its case against the embattled judge on Sept. 14, 2018 after presenting 12 witnesses and tendering several documents which were admitted in evidence by the court. (NAN)