N1.4bn fraud: Court vacates arrest order against Akwa-Ibom commissioners, others

Justice Mohammed Aikawa of a Federal High Court, Lagos, has vacated the bench warrant issued against three officials of Akwa-Ibom State government and one, Margaret Ukpe, who were named in alleged N1.4 billion fraud against the President of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) Paul Usoro (SAN).

This was a sequel to the granting of an application dated March 4, 2019, asking that the bench warrant be set aside.

The court had on March 1, 2019, upon a request by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), ordered the arrest of the officials.

The officials who were allegedly said to be at large are Commissioner for Finance, Nsikan Nkan; Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Uwemedimo Nwoko and the Accountant General of the state, Mfon Udomah.

They were alleged to have conspired with the NBA president to commit money laundering.

Arguing the application against the bench warrant, applicants lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), noted that the court had no jurisdiction over his clients as no charge was yet to be filed against them by the EFCC.

He noted that the tussle dated back to February 2017, when the Akwa-Ibom government sued the EFCC at a Federal High Court in Uyo over the harassment of its officials by the anti-graft agency.

He alleged that despite a subsisting order of the Uyo’s court asking the anti-graft agency to cease all action pending the conclusion of the case, the officials of government were still being harassed by the EFCC.

“The Attorney-General of Akwa-Ibom was the one personally conducting the Uyo’s case. The court later asked parties to stay all actions pending the conclusion of the case.

“Initially, the order was obeyed by the EFCC, but it later somersaulted and commenced a new wave of harassment of the officials.

“The Attorney-General later went physically to the Abuja office of the EFCC to lodge complaints, but when nothing changed, contempt proceedings were commenced against EFCC,” Ozekhome said.

Ozekhome also faulted the EFCC for asking the court on the issuance of bench warrant against his clients when there was no record that they ignored lawful summon.

While urging the court to vacate the bench warrant, Ozekhome undertook to ensure that the applicants were available to answer to any charge that might be filed against them by the EFCC

Responding, EFCC’s lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo, said in view of the applicants’ lawyer’s undertaken that he would ensure his clients’ availability once a charge was filed against them, he would not be opposing the application.

The bench warrant was subsequently vacated by Justice Aikawa.

At today’s proceedings, the court also took arguments on another motion by Governor Emmanuel Udom of Akwa-Ibom State, challenging the court’s jurisdiction to entertain the case.

Arguing the motion, Udom’s lawyer, Dr. Charles Mekwunye, said EFCC had no locus to bring the action as the Constitution in Section 128 has outlined how any excesses of a state governor can be checkmated.

He said it was illegal for the EFCC to put the governor’s name on the charge as he still enjoys immunity as enshrined in Section 308 of the Constitution.

The EFCC’s lawyer, while opposing the motion said the court’s power to hear and determine money-laundering related offences against all persons is not in doubt.

He insisted that Governor Udom was not a party in the case.

After listening to the submissions of parties, Justice Aikawa fixed May 30, 2019, as the date to rule on the matter.

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