By Akinwale Akintunde
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), yesterday, asked an Ikeja High Court to strike out the ongoing corruption suit preferred against a former judge of the Federal High Court, Lagos, Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia for lack of jurisdiction.
Ofili-Ajumogobia is standing trial alongside Obono Obla (SAN) on a 31-count charge bordering on an alleged perversion of the course of justice, unlawful enrichment and forgery preffered by EFCC.
According to anti-graft agency, 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 National Judicial Council (NJC) had on its 87th meeting, which was held on October 3, under the Chairmanship of Justice Walter Onnoghen, the Chief Justice of Nigeria recommended the dismissal of Ofili-Ajumogobia as a judge.
The recommendation for dismissal was as on the strength of petitions filed to the NJC containing allegations of corruption against her by Mr. Ibrahim Magu, the Acting Chairman of the EFCC.
At the resumed hearing of the matter yesterday, before Justice Hakeem Oshodi, the EFCC prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo informed the court the charge preferred against Ofili-Ajumogobia, was not in line with the guidelines of the National Judicial Council (NJC) based on the Court of Appeal decision in Hon. Justice Nganjuwa V. FRN.
Justice Obaseki Adejumo of the Court of Appeal while delivering his judgment in Hon. Justice Nganjuwa V. FRN, had said that EFCC does not have power to investigate and prosecute serving judicial officers.
Adejumo said that National Judicial Council (NJC) must first strip the appellant (Hon. Justice Nganjuwa) of his judicial standing before he could be charge.
The Court of Appeal judge had further stated that serving judicial officers can only be prosecuted for offences like murder, stealing etc done outside the discharge of their duties. That once the offence was committed in the discharge of their duties, they must be tried by NJC first.
Citing the decision in Nganjuwa Vs FRN, the EFCC through a letter dated Decemeber 13, 2018 urged the court to strike out the charge.
“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 Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Chief Robert Clarke 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.”
Chief Robert Clarke (SAN), counsel to Ofili-Ajumogobia had in an application dated November 27, 2018 urged the court to discharge and acquit his client.
“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 had allowed the defendant endure the strain of trial, the court should discharge 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 My Lordship has no jurisdiction,” Clarke said.
Mr. Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN) the defence counsel to Mr. Godwin Obla (SAN), Ofili-Ajumogobia’s co-defendant, urged the court to separate the joint charges of the defendants.
“Salvation in Christendom is individual, I submit that the second defendant (Obla) is not a judicial officer covered by the decision in Ngajuwa’s case.
“I’m inviting Your Lordship to separate the first defendant from the second defendant.
“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.