……as court adjourns case till April 7
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – Twenty three officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, accused of receiving N360million from Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike during the December 10, 2016, re-reun election in the state, on Tuesday, declined to enter their plea to charges the Federal Government preferred against them.
The indicted INEC officials insisted that they would not be tried in Abuja over a crime they allegedly committed in Rivers State.
They challenged the territorial jurisdiction of the Federal High Court in Abuja to hear and determine the seven-count criminal charge FG initiated against them.
FG had in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CR//42/2017, alleged that the N360million was proceeds of governor Wike’s criminal conduct which it said constituted economic and financial crimes.
It alleged that the accused persons had between December 7 and 10, 2016, converted, concealed and took possession of the sum of N360million bribe, in violation of various provisions of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 and the Economic and Financial Crimes (Establishment, etc) Act, 2004.
Those dragged before the high court were Shittu Mohammed Lamido (Shettima), Henry Owokure, Peter Ewatade, Mrs. Mary Jummai, Tunkoyo Pennap, Gwatana Jibril, Ivase Stephen, Abdullahi Ogabo, Gayus Hassan, Hussaina Yahaya, James Ogwuche, Karimu Aminu and Adedokun Najeem Ayotunde.
Others include, Balogun Funmilayo, Adams Kadiri, Akinwande Adesoji, Lukeman Olabimpe, Tiamiyu Arowolo, Akinwoye Amodu, Nwoha Yusuf, Patrick Anuke, Iro Abali, Nwosu Oluchi and Arukwe Chinelo.
Meantime, the defendants who appeared before trial Justice John Tsoho on Tuesday, declined to enter their plea to the charge.
The defence lawyers led by Mr. Ahmed Raji, SAN, and U.O Ukairo, said they had on March 13, filed a motion to challenge the powers of the high court in Abuja to adjudicate on an offence that took place in Rivers State.
They dared FG to take them before the Port Harcourt Division of the high court.
“My Lord, we have filed an application by way of motion on notice questioning territorial jurisdiction of this court to hear this matter.
“We are challenging the court’s jurisdiction because all the alleged acts took place in Port-Harcourt and none of the 1st to 20th defendants live here in Abuja.
“And the question is; will it not be neater and tidier to resolve this issue first? We are of the humble opinion that this is a very fundamental issue that must be resolved.
“In the interest of justice, we want this court to stay taking of plea of the defendants until the issue of jurisdiction is resolved”, Raji, SAN, who represented the 1st to 20th defendants, submitted.
His argument was adopted by all the other defendants.