By Francis IWUCHUKWU
The N3.5 billion fraud charge filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, against the aides of Dr Bukola Saraki, the immediate past Senate President of Nigeria, was last Friday struck out by a Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos State, Nigeria.
It would be recalled that the anti-graft agency had claimed that the N3.5bn Paris Club Fund loan was a scam.
The lucky aides are: Saraki’s Deputy Chief of Staff, Gbenga Makanjuola; a cashier in Saraki’s office, Kolawole Shitu; Obiora Amobi; a former Managing Director of the defunct, Société Générale Bank of Nigeria, SGBN, Robert Mbonu, said to be at large, and a firm, Melrose General Services Limited.
The court presided over by Justice Akintayo Aluko, however, declined to award the cost of N20million against the EFCC as requested by the defendants.
It would be recalled that the defendants were arraigned in September 2019 on an 11 count-charge before Justice Babs Kuewunmi, and they pleaded not guilty.
But consequent upon Justice Kuewunmi’s transfer to another division, the case file was transferred to Justice Akintayo Aluko.
Midway through their trial, the EFCC applied to the court to amend the charge, and two more counts were added, making it a 13 count-charge.
But the defendants through their counsel including K. T. Alowomi, Paul Erokoro (SAN) and others, challenged the court’s jurisdiction to entertain the 11 counts and also objected to the second amended 13-count charge.
They had argued that the 11-count charge failed to state where the alleged offenses were committed, adding that the amendment sought by the prosecution was a ploy to cure the defect in the first charge.
As a result, the lawyers urged the court to dismiss the charge with a cost of N20 million as damages against the EFCC.
In handing down his ruling, Justice Aluko agreed with the defendants and struck out the charge for lack of jurisdiction.
Specifically, Justice Aluko held that, “The prosecution called my attention to the second amended charge which Ihey proposed to bring in.
“I see this call as another means of seeking an amendment of the first amended charge, the validity and competence of which is on trial in view of the preliminary objection of the defendants over which the prosecution has joined issues and which is under consideration.
“I see the call by the prosecution urging me to take judicial notice of the proposed second amended charge as Inviting the court to overrule itself in its ruling delivered on October 15, 2021, where this court held that, an incompetent originating process cannot be subsequently amended to render it competent as you cannot put something on nothing and expect it to stand.
“I hold the considered view that the call by the prosecution to take Judicial notice of the second amended charge in spite of the fact that both parties have joined issues on the validity and competency question of the pending first amended Charge, has no capability of bringing succor to the prosecution.
“This Is because the second amended charge was initiated in breach of the mandatory provision of Section 45 of the Federal High Court Act.”
The judge added that the defendants’ preliminary objections “have merit and substance in them. They are hereby sustained. I declare the prosecution’s first amended charge dated and filed on October 3, 2018, invalid and incompetent and same is accordingly struck out.
“Claim for award of damages in the sum of N20 million is hereby declined. Also, I make no Order as to cost.”
The EFCC had on October 7, 2018, arraigned the defendants on charges bordering on conspiracy, payment of some monies without going through financial institutions.
While the defendants were being arraigned, the EFCC through its lawyer, Ekele Iheanacho, had told the court that the defendants, sometimes in December 2016, conspired to disguise the origin of the sum of N3.5 billion, which was paid into Melrose General Services Limited account with a bank.
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