By Jane Echewedo
lagos—Counsel to Chief Innocent Chukwuma, Chief George Uwechue SAN, has challenged the jurisdiction of the Lagos State High Court to hear the suit on the forgery charge against Innoson, as filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
At the start of the court proceedings, the legal counsel to the EFCC, Mr. A.B.C Ozioko stated that the business of the day was the arraignment of Chief Innocent Chukwuma but when the trial judge, Justice Mojisola Dada asked for the appearance of Chief Chukwuma, Uwechue SAN, called the attention of the judge to the pending applications before the court.
The applications include a motion that the court recuse or disqualify itself from further conduct of the proceedings; a motion challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear the suit being that the charge is an abuse of process because a similar charge on the same subject matter is pending at the Federal High Court Lagos division between the same parties in charge no FHC/l/565c/2015.
A motion by the EFCC cannot be heard until it withdraws the charge on account of a pending motion against it at the Court of Appeal praying that it be restrained from filing any charge in respect of the same subject matter was struck out until the determination of the appeal against the court’s order striking out the previous charge – Charge No. ID/197c/2013.
*A motion pending at the court of appeal to stay commencement of proceedings and execution of the court’s order of January 17, 2018;
*A motion for stay of execution of the bench warrant issued on February 9 2018 against Chief Chukwuma pending the appeal against the Court’s order of Bench Warrant issued on February 9, 2018 and the court’s assumption of jurisdiction to entertain the charge.
Counsel to the defendant, Prof J.N. Mbadugha told the court that since the jurisdiction of the court was in contest, the appearance of the defendant was no longer mandatory and necessary where jurisdiction of the court is challenged.
He stated that the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal held in the aforesaid cases that in the circumstance, the court owes the defendant a duty to safeguard him from oppression, prejudice and the rigours of criminal prosecution until the challenge to jurisdiction is determined one way or the other.
Mbadugha further challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear the matter on the ground that that the charge was an abuse of court process because the same charge on the same subject matter, transactions and issues is pending at the Federal High Court before the present charge in this court. Mbadugha further argued that if the defendant comes to court, the court remands him in prison and thereafter, the court discovers that it lacks the jurisdiction to entertain the charge, who then will compensate the defendant for going to prison and that is why the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal held that the court owes the defendant a duty to safeguard him from the rigors of prejudice, oppression and the criminal prosecution once issue of jurisdiction is raised.
After the submission of legal counsel of the defendants, the judge failed to consider the motions before it and stated that the defendants must be on the dock to plead guilty or not before she can consider any of the motions including the issue of court’s jurisdiction.
The judge she will no longer entertain further proceedings in the suit involving Innoson, until she had responded to petitions against her before the National Judicial Council, NJC.
Innoson had on February 12 , 2018, petitioned the NJC to investigate the circumstance leading to Justice Mojisola Dada of lagos State High Court issuing a bench warrant against Chief Chukwuma and ordering his arrest.
Justice a Dada who acknowledged the receipt of the petition said she awaits the decision of the NJC before she will entertain further proceedings in the suit.
The judge further adjourns till April 25, 2018 for possible arraignment.