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Alleged N3bn fraud: You can’t try us, Onyuike, others tell court

BY ABDULWAHAB ABDULLAH
LAGOS—A Lagos High Court sitting at Igbosere was yesterday told that it lacked the jurisdiction to compel the appearance of the former Director-General of the Nigerian Stock Exchange, NSE, Dr (Mrs.) Ndi Okereke-Onyuike, before it to answer for alleged conspiracy and stealing.

Okereke-Onyuike, who was expected to appear before Justice Christopher Balogun alongside seven others, in a suit instituted against them by the Lagos State Government, claimed in her preliminary objection that the court lacked the powers to try her and seven others, since the prosecution had failed to disclose a prima facie case against them.

The state government had instituted two separate suits, numbers LCD/157/2011 and LCD/158/2011, against Dr. Okereke-Onyuike, her deputy, Alhaji Lance Musa Elakama, and six others for allegedly stealing N3.3 billion.

Owing to the trial Judge’s observation on whether their counsel, Chief Robert Clarke, SAN, could successfully argue the issue of jurisdiction without the appearance of the defendants, the defendants, through their lawyer, informed the court that since they had challenged the jurisdiction of the court to adjudicate on the suit, their physical presence in court was not required.

Chief Clarke, SAN, argued that in criminal matters, it was absolutely unnecessary for Okereke-Onyuike and others to be in court when their application to quash the charge levelled against them was being heard by the court.

Citing authorities of the Court of Appeal, Clarke submitted that since the defendants were contesting the validity of the information contained in the charge, it would be fruitless efforts for the court to compel their appearances.

Clarke argued that since the defendants had not been formally brought before the court, it was immaterial if they were present or not in court.

They argued that information contained in the charge levelled against them was filed without any investigation by the police.

The lawyer argued: “It was a settled law that at a stage of filling of valid information against the defendants, it is immaterial that the defendants is absent in court. In view of some decisions of the Appeal Court, I will like to submit that application to quash is not a trial, and until trial is reached, the accused person may not be in court.”

In his response, the Solicitor-General of Lagos State, Mr. Lawal Pedro (SAN), who did not raise objection to the argument, however, contended that the only time the defendants could be compelled to appear court was if they were already in custody.

The matter has been adjourned till December 9, for further address on the issue.

 


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