By Alex Enumah in Abuja
Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court on Monday told the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPIPRPP) that it lacked prosecutorial powers to initiate criminal proceedings against any Nigerian.
Justice Ekwo, who in a ruling delivered Monday, held that the function of the panel ends with the completion of investigation, said any attempt by the panel to file charges on its own is ultra vires, null and void since the constitution did not confer on it such powers.
The judge consequently dismissed the charges filed by the panel against the Director of Finance and Accounts in the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Ibrahim Tumsah, and his brother, Tijani Tumsah, also a staff of the Ministry.
Following the dismissal of the charges, the Court then discharge the defendants of the 2 count charge filed against them.
The defendants had in their motion, relied on section 4(4) of Recovery of Public Property Special Provisions Act to urge the court to decline adjudicating on the matter.
Counsel to the defendants, Abdul Mohammed insisted that the presidential panel had no prosecutorial powers, adding that the section provides for acts that can be taken by the presidential panel.
The counsel informed the Court that a full panel of Court of Appeal, had in a judgement delivered on November 5, 2018, barred the presidential panel from filing any charge in court against any person because it lacks such prosecutorial powers.
On his notice of preliminary objection, Kehinde Ogunwumiji SAN, counsel to the 1st defendant, prayed the court for an order striking out the 2-count charge for lack of jurisdiction.
He showed the court a copy of the Court of Appeal judgement, adding that section 27(2) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, stipulates that a decision of the Court of Appeal shall be enforced in any part of the federation.
“The Court of Appeal even said they cannot approach any court, not to talk of filing a chage” Ogunwumiji said.
Arguing further, the senior lawyer submitted that the presidential probe panel was in contempt, having not obeyed the appellate court’s pronouncement.
Replying, counsel to the presidential probe panel, Celsus Ukpong vehemently opposed the applications, and urged the court to dismiss them.
Ukpong argued that the Court of Appeal judgement was not applicable in the instant case.
He posited that under section 3(3) of the Recovery of Public Property Special Provisions Act, the President has the power to set up a probe panel, and that the panel can sue on behalf of Mr President.
More so, Ukpong submitted that section 4(4) of the Act, which the 1st defendant’s counsel referred to, “mainly talked about suspects who had received and completed their asset declaration forms.
But where a person neglected and refused to declare the person’s assets, that constitutes a criminal act, liable for prosecution by a lawyer on behalf of Mr President.
After taking submission, Justice Ekwo fixed February 25 for ruling.
It would be recalled that both brothers were rearraigned on October 31, 2018, before Justice Ekwo of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja over failure to declare their assets.
Specifically, the two public servants are being prosecuted by the Okoi Obono Obla led presidential probe panel for refusing and neglecting to declare their assets to the special panel.
The offences ran contrary to and punishable under Section 3 (3) of the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provision) Act, 2004.