•Fani-Kayode flays action
Kingsley Nwezeh in Abuja and Akinwale Akintunde in Lagos
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) yesterday re-arrested a former judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Rita-Ofili-Ajumogobia, shortly after a Lagos High Court struck out a 30-count charge bordering on corruption against her.
The arrest generated a mild drama in the premises of a Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja immediately after Justice Hakeem Oshodi struck out the corruption charge against her.
The anti-graft agency explained that it re-arrested the former judge “to enable it to prefer a fresh criminal charge against her.”
Ofili-Ajumogobia, who just had a sigh of relief and was stepping out of the courtroom had to flee back to Justice Oshodi’s court for refuge on sighting the EFCC operatives numbering about 15, who had laid siege to her.
When the embattled judge, however, notified the court of her impending arrest, Justice Oshodi said that there was nothing he could do anymore, as the case file had immediately been closed.
When she refused to step out of the courtroom, the EFCC operatives had to wait until the court rose before they re-arrested the embattled judge and escorted her into a waiting white Hilux van.
Ofili-Ajumogobia has been standing trial since November 2016, when she was first arraigned alongside Godwin Obla (SAN), a former prosecution counsel for EFCC, on a 30-count charge bordering on alleged perversion of the course of justice, unlawful enrichment and forgery.
According to the charge sheet, five of the charges which directly concerned Obla are centred on an alleged N5 million bribe given to the judge by the senior advocate while the remaining 25 charges are on the huge amounts that passed through her accounts and her alleged inability to explain her source of wealth.
The EFCC alleged that about $793,800 passed through the judge’s domiciliary accounts between 2012 and 2015.
According to the 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 judge allegedly used the money to buy a house in London.
In the charge with suit No: LD/367/C/16, the anti-graft agency insisted that the defendants allegedly committed the offence on May 24, 2015, when they conspired to pervert the course of justice with the sum of N5 million.
The said sum according to the EFCC was said to have been transferred to one Nigel & Colive Ltd, in relation to a charge number FHC/L/C/482/10.
The commission maintained that Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia is the sole signatory to Nigel & Colive Ltd, adding that both defendants conspired to pervert the course of justice in contravention of the provisions of the Criminal Laws of Lagos State, 2011.
According to counts one to four, Obla was particularly accused of offering gratification in the sum of N5 million, by transferring the money from his company’s account Obla & Co., domiciled with the United Bank for Africa, to Nigel & Colive.
The defendants, however, pleaded not guilty to all the charges and were granted bail on self recognisance as prayed by their counsel, Mr. Wale Akoni SAN, for Ofili-Ajumogobia and Mr. Ifedayo Adedipe SAN, despite stiff opposition by the prosecution led by Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo who had argued that they might interfere with investigation and prosecution witnesses.
On February 2018, the EFCC amended the charges reducing it to 24 counts and the duo were re-arraigned.
After the re-arraignment, in October 2018, the National Judicial Council (NJC) during 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.
As the trial was ongoing, Ofili-Ajumogobia challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear her case.
She had argued through her lawyer, Chief Robert Clark SAN, that the court had no power to hear the substantive case.
Responding to the application, the EFCC conceded that the court had no jurisdiction to hear the corruption case and urged the court to strike out the bribery charge against the dismissed judge.
The EFCC prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, had informed the court that 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.
Citing the decision in Nganjuwa Vs FRN, the EFCC through a letter dated December 13, 2018 urged the court to strike out the charge.
Justice Oshodi, thereafter, adjourned the case until April 16 for ruling on EFCC’s decision asking the court to strike out the case against the judge.
Ruling on the applications at yesterday’s proceedings, Justice Oshodi expressed dismay at EFCC for wasting the time of the court.
He said: “The prosecution wasted the time of the court knowing full well that the court lacks jurisdiction as at the time of calling 12th witness, but still went ahead to amend the charge to call two more witnesses.
“The EFCC was aware of the Court of Appeal’s decision on Justice Hadezia Nganjiwa, where it had reached a decision that any attempt by any government agency to try a judicial officer without first waiting for the verdict of the NJC’s disciplinary committee will amount to a breach of the constitution.
“Going by the decision of the Court of Appeal, continuing with this case would be an exercise in futility. This decision has rendered useless all that has been done so far.
“The prosecution knew that this was an exercise in nullity. They should have brought an application to have the charges dropped, but they still persisted.
“The prosecution in this case admitted that they jumped the gun.”
The judge also frowned at the judicial system for not making provisions to fine the prosecution for wasting the judicious time of the court.
Justice Oshodi, in his ruling also pointed out that the anti-graft agency jumped the gun for not waiting for the National Judicial Council to dismiss the judge before filling charges against the defendant.
“This case is hereby struck out and dismissed”, the judge ruled.
Reacting to yesterday’s arrest of the former judge, a former Minister of Aviation, Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, decried her ordeals in the hands of EFCC.
“EFCC’s case against Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia was thrown out by Justice Oshodi of the Ikeja High Court today with harsh words,” he said, adding: “Despite this she was held hostage by the EFCC in the court premises for one hour and now she has been re-arrested and taken to their Lagos office.
“All this despite the fact that she is innocent of any wrongdoing, despite the fact that she is a lady, despite the fact that she has been subjected to and suffered immense trauma due to this case over the last two years and despite the fact that one of her legs is now broken and in a cast.
“This is not justice: it is sheer wickedness. I appeal to President Buhari to put a stop to this wholesale, vindictive and vicious persecution and to call the EFCC to order. If we do not fear man we should at least fear God.”
EFCC Plans Fresh Charge
Meanwhile, the EFCC yesterday gave reasons why it re-arrested Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia.
In a statement issued yesterday in Abuja, the EFCC said it re-arrested Justice Ajumogobia “to enable it to prefer a fresh criminal charge against her.”
The statement signed by EFCC’s Acting Head of Media and Publicity, Mr. Tony Orilade, said: “The commission re-arrested Ofili-Ajumogobia in line with the decision of the Appeal Court, Lagos Division, in a case involving Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa, where it said that a judge could not be prosecuted until he or she had either been dismissed or compulsorily retired by the NJC.
“Consequent upon the fact that the commission had presented Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia before the NJC for disciplinary action and that the NJC had taken a position, the commission would now approach the court to prefer fresh charges against her.”