By Ise-Oluwa Ige
A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, Monday, fixed July 5, for ruling on two separate requests by the Chairman of House Committee on Power, Ndudi Elumelu and his counterpart in the Senate, Nicholas Ugbane, to quash a multiple-fraud charge involving N5.2billion charge preferred against them.
The court fixed the date after a heated argument on the issue from the opposing parties yesterday.
The accused persons are being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. They were accused of inflating the Rural Electrification Agency contract.
But the accused persons are saying that they had no case to answer. They said they were covered by legislative immunity. Counsel to Elumelu, Mr. Patrick Ikwueto (SAN), yesterday, told a Federal High Court in Abuja thatÂ the commission lacked the powers to query legislative functions carried out in the chambers of the National Assembly.
The court had, after listening to the argument of the lawyers of Elumelu, Ugbane and EFCC fixed July 5, to decide whether or not to quash the charge against them.
Already, has EFCC filed its amended additional proof of evidence against the accused persons and served them yesterday.
Before the date was given for the ruling, Elumeluâ€™s lawyer, Ikwueto, had aargued that in the first place, EFCCâ€™s charge did not disclose any prima facie evidence against his client in respect of the alleged N5.2 bn Rural Electrification Agency contract for which his client and eight others are standing trial.
He told the court to quash count 1 to 66 of the charges on the ground that EFCC could not query their action being one covered by the Act of Parliament.
He said that Section 3 of the Legislative Act Cap. 112 Laws of the Federation provided that no civil or criminal proceeding shall lie against any member of the National Assembly in respect of deliberations or actions taken within the Chambers of the National Assembly. Aside from this, Ikwueto said that his client never wrote any personal letter in respect of the said contract except the one detailing the leadership of the National Assembly on the progress report of the project.
In addition, he said his client was not involved in the award of the contract saying that the said contract was awarded by the Rural Electrification Agency (REA) and that there was no evidence to show that members of National Assembly introduced any contractor to the agency. Similarly, Ugbaneâ€™s counsel, Sunday Ameh (SAN) who is of the same view with Ikwueto noted that the court should take judicial notice of the functions of a legislator.
In this connection, he explained that in matters involving appropriation and passage of budgets, the National Assembly normally share the duties within the committees whose duties would be to recommend their various decisions to the committee of the whole House or Senate as the case may be, for approval or passage into law.
In effect, he told the court that such decisions are usually taken jointly and that it would be illegal and unfair to single out some members for prosecution merely because they are heading committees in the instant case, Power committee. On the other hand, EFCC lawyer, Godwin Obla asked the court to discountenance the submission of the accused persons lawyers saying that the said contract was done with the influence of the office of the these accused persons.