…accuses EFCC of abusing the court process
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, ABUJA
The Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, on Thursday, suspended further proceedings in the ongoing trial of the immediate past Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Winifred Oyo-Ita.
Oyo-Ita is answering to an 18-count corruption charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, preferred against her and eight others.
Trial Justice Taiwo Taiwo stayed further hearing on the matter after he found that the EFCC went before another court and obtained an exparte order that permitted it to freeze the bank accounts of the 4th, 5th and 6th Defendants in the case.
Justice Taiwo described the conduct of the anti-graft agency as “gross abuse of the court process”.
He held that the Prosecution engaged in forum shopping, stressing that proceedings would not resume in the criminal case until the EFCC “do the needful”.
Justice Taiwo who was irked by EFCC’s conduct, said: “It is on record that the Defendants, in this case, were formally arraigned on March 23, 2020, and they all pleaded not guilty.
“This court was informed and became aware of the freezing order on December 1, 2020, by counsel to the 4th, 5th and 6th Defendants.
“There is no doubt that this matter had commenced, charges read were reacted to and applications made were granted, before the Prosecutor went ahead to secure the freezing order.
“The learned Prosecutor went and filed a fresh application which was assigned to another court.
“Is this not an abuse of the court process?
“It is the law that once a court is seized of a matter, any application relating to that matter must be filed before the court.
“The application made ex-parte which was assigned to another court in October 2020, months after the Defendants, including the 4th, 5th and 6th Defendants had appeared in this court, was made in bad-faith”.
He held that the action of the EFCC was a slap in the face of the court.
“For the Prosecution to have even bracingly referred to the actions of this court in his Originating Summons made ex parte, dated September 18 2020.
“I am not unaware of the plans of the EFCC to apply for seizing warrant during investigations and even where Defendants are formally before the court.
“If the prosecution feels so strongly about the need to secure an order freezing the accounts of any of the Defendants, they ought to have brought the application before this court and not before another court.
“What the prosecution wants by its Originating Summons ex parte can also be achieved in this court.
“There would not have been any problem if the ex parte application preceded the charge before this court.
“The courts have been enjoined to deal with situations of this nature where its process is abused.
“In the circumstance, I do not see how I can continue with the trial in this manner.
“The only thing I hereby do is to stay further proceedings in this matter until the Prosecutor does the needful.
“What he chooses to do in line with the law, is his choice”, Justice Taiwo held.
Whereas Oyo-Ita was listed as the 1st Defendant in the charge before Justice Taiwo, marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/60/2020, a civil servant, Garba Umar and his two companies; Slopes International Ltd and Good deal Investment Ltd, are the 4th, 5th and 6th Defendants respectively.
Other Defendants include Oyo-Ita’s Personal Assistant, Ubong Okon Effiok and four companies; Frontline Ace Global Services Ltd, Asanaya Projects Limited, U & U Global Services Limited and Prince Mega Logistics Limited.
EFCC accused the Defendants of complicity in a fraud totalling about N500million.
It specifically accused the ex-HoS of collecting kick-backs on contracts while she was in service.
It alleged that aside collecting Estacodes and ticket fees for journeys not embarked on, the erstwhile HoS, collaborated with her co-defendants to disguise the genuine ownership of funds they diverted into accounts of various private companies.
The Defendants had through their respective lawyers, urged the court to adjourn their trial sine-die (indefinitely) over EFCC’s conduct.
EFCC’s lawyer, Mohammed Abubakar had opposed their request, though he admitted that it indeed secured an interim forfeiture order against some of the Defendants.
Abubakar told the court that there are two separate charges marked FHC/ABJ/CR/60/20 and FHC/ABJ/CR/61/20, relating to alleged offences the Defendants committed.
He said some bank accounts listed in the interim forfeiture application were mentioned in both charges pending before Justice Taiwo Taiwo and Justice Inyang Ekwo of the same High Court.
“The two cases emanated from the same case-file. But because of the number of the Defendants involved, the Prosecution decided to split the charges for ease of prosecution”, he added.
He said after the EFCC filed the application to freeze the bank accounts, the Chief Judge of the Court, assigned the matter to another judge, Justice Folashade Giwa-Ogubanjo to handle.
“It was the CJ that decided where to assign the application we filed at the Registry.
“We had no hand on the assignment of the case file. We also Indicated and exhibited the charge before this court and the one before Justice Ekwo, in our application.
“We submit that we did not engage in abuse of court process. We also did not file that application as a result of disrespect or lack of confidence in any Judge of this Court. We only did it in pursuance of our statutory duty and with utmost transparency.
“We sincerely and unreservedly apologize to this court in the event that our action displeased this Court.
“We have indeed affirmed our confidence in your lordship to do justice in this matter.
“We vehemently oppose the application from counsel to the 1st Defendant, Oyo-Ita, for adjournment sine-die.
“The application amounts to an application for stay of proceedings, which is against the letter and spirit of section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015
“Such an application will run contrary to section 19(2)(C) of the EFCC Act, 2004, which aligns with section 20(3) of the Money Laundering Prohibition 2011 as amended in 2012”, the Prosecution counsel submitted.