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Assets declaration: Why court struck out charge against Ekweremadu

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By Ikechukwu Nnochiri


ABUJA—The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, yesterday, struck out the charge of non-declaration of assets entered against former Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, by the defunct Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property.

The court, in a ruling by trial Justice Binta Nyako, terminated further hearing on the matter after the prosecution counsel complained that he was unable to find the case-file.
It will be recalled that the disbanded panel, which was led by Chief Mr. Okoi Obono-Obla, had in 2018, dragged Ekweremadu to court, alleging that he refused to declare his assets in a manner it prescribed for him.

In the charge marked FHC/ABJ/CR/62/2018, the Obono-Obla-led panel alleged that Ekweremadu ignored several invitations extended for him to “clarify issues in the allegation of excessive wealth or suspicious assets,” which it said “cannot be justified or explained” by his legitimate income.

Meanwhile, following the dissolution of the panel, the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, upon a presidential directive, took over all the cases that were hitherto handled by the panel.

However, at the resumed proceeding in the case yesterday, counsel from the office of the AGF, Mr.Pius Akutah, told the court that the lawyer that previously handled the case for the panel, disappeared with the case file.

Akutah, therefore, pleaded with the judge to order the former counsel to release the file to the AGF’s office.

The prayer was opposed by Ekweremadu’s lawyer, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, who urged the court to strike out the case for want of diligent prosecution.
In a ruling, trial Justice Nyako declined the prosecution’s request, stressing that the office of the AGF ought to know what to do if it indeed wanted to retrieve the case-file from the former lawyer that handled the matter.

The judge said: “As it is today, you don’t know the case against the defendant since you don’t have the file. I am going to strike out the case, when you are ready you can come back.

“The case is hereby struck out for want of diligent prosecution. The prosecution is allowed to come back whenever they are ready to proceed with the case.”

Ekweremadu who was in court and mounted the dock when the matter was called, had earlier challenged the powers of the high to hear the matter and to grant interim ownership of his 22 attached properties to the Federal Government.

Ekweremadu maintained that under the 1999 Constitution, as amended, the court, lacked the jurisdiction to entertain and exercise judicial powers in matter related to, connected with and arising from the Code of Conduct and Declaration of Assets.

He told the court that the Chief Obono-Oblah led Panel that is moving to seize his properties for the government “is an illegal body”, saying it was not created under any law made by the National Assembly.

“The so called Special Panel was never Gazetted in any publication in the Federal Government of Nigeria Gazette. The President and Commander-in-Chief never inaugurated any panel anytime and anywhere in Nigeria”.

He contended that the Panel lacked the locus standi, competence and legal vires to receive complaints, investigate and initiate legal proceedings in matters connected with assets he declared to the Code of Conduct Bureau in 2007 and 2015.

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