Wednesday, December 31, 2014 8:38 pm
*EFCC case dismissed over jurisdiction
A Nigerian Court of Appeal in Lagos, on Wednesday, struck out a N47.1 billion theft charge against former Managing Director of Intercontinental Bank Plc, Erastus Akingbola.
Akingbola was charged by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) alongside Bayo Dada, General Manager of Probics Securities Ltd, before a Lagos High Court in Ikeja.
They were charged on 22 counts bordering on stealing and obtaining money by false pretences.
The appellants had through their counsel, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) and Prof. Taiwo Osipitan (SAN), challenged the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the charge preferred against them.
The trial court judge, Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo, had, however, in a ruling delivered on May 2, 2014, dismissed their applications and held that it was competent to entertain the charges preferred against the appellants.
The lower court had then assumed jurisdiction in the matter.
Dissatisfied with the ruling of the court, the appellants had filed two separate appeals, urging the appellate court to set aside the decision of the lower court.
The appellate court, in a unanimous decision on Wednesday, allowed the appeal on the grounds that the subject matter of the alleged offences related to banking operations and capital issues, which fell under the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court.
Delivering the lead judgment, Justice Amina Augie, held that the lower court judge took a narrow view of the issue, when it assumed jurisdiction in the case.
Augie held that the lower court judge erred when he failed to take notice of the decision of the appellate court in the case of Okey Nwosu vs EFCC, even when it was brought to his notice.
The judge noted that the appellate court had in Okey Nwosu’s case held that the Ikeja High Court, Lagos, where the charges were instituted against the defendants, had no jurisdiction over capital market-related issues.
Augie held that the refusal of the lower court to abide by the principle of Stare decisis, was tantamount to judicial rascality, adding that it would encourage the lower court to take up arms against the appellate court.
The court held that the subject matter of the alleged offences related to banking operations and capital market issues, which was outside the jurisdiction of the Lagos High Court.
It, therefore, held that the lower court failed in its duty as an unbiased umpire when it refused to study thoroughly the processes presented before it.
Olanipekun had earlier in his submission, urged the court to allow the appeal and set aside the decision of the lower court.
He had argued that the trial judge erred in law when he assumed jurisdiction over the charge before him, in the face of clear provisions of Section 251 of the Constitution and Section 8(1) of the Federal High Court Act.
Olanipekun submitted that Section 251 of the Constitution vested exclusive jurisdiction in the Federal High Court over the subject matter, stressing that Section 272(1) of the Constitution which provided for the jurisdiction of the State high court was subject to Section 251.
He further submitted that the lower court erred in law and came to a perverse decision in its interpretation and application of the word ‘’also’’, as used in Section 251(3) of the constitution.
Olanipekun told the court that there was a similar charge involving Akingbola and the EFCC, which he said was currently pending before the Federal High Court in Lagos.
He had also argued that the main witnesses listed in the proof of evidence at the Federal High Court were the same witnesses also listed in the proof of evidence before the court.
The appellate court’s judgment was also adopted by Justice Samuel Oseji and Justice Abimbola Obaseki-Adejumo.