The Court of Appeal in Abuja has restored the orders obtained by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for freezing of accounts and interim forfeiture of assets owned by an ally of former Petroleum Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, Jide Omokore.
The accounts, housing various sums, are domiciled in the First City Monument Bank (FCMB) while the property are said to be located within and outside the country.
In a judgment, a three-man panel of the Court of Appeal, led by Justice Moore Adumein, set aside the September 10, 2020 decision by Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja, vacating the freezing and interim forfeiture orders obtained on May 3, 2016 by the EFCC.
The EFCC had obtained the orders before commencement of Omokore and others’ prosecution before a Federal High Court in Abuja on alleged $1.6billion money laundering charge, marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/121/2016
Those being tried with Omokore are Victor Briggs (former Managing Director, Nigerian Petroleum Development Company – NPDC); Abiye Membere (ex-Group Executive Director, Exploration and Production at the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation – NNPC), Atlantic Energy Brass Development Limited and Atlantic Energy Drilling Concepts Limited.
While their trial was yet to be concluded, Omokore and his firm – Energy Property Development Limited went before Justice Mohammed with a fundamental rights enforcement suit, claiming their accounts in FCMB and other assets were unlawfully seized by the EFCC.
In his judgment on September 10, 2020 in the suit marked: FHC/ABJ/CS/946/2020, Justice Mohammed agreed with the lawyer to Omokore and his firm, Ojukwu Chikaosolu the property and funds were wrongly confiscated.
He then ordered their release, a decision the EFCC appealed.
Justice Peter Ige, in the lead judgment of the Court of Appeal, in the appeal marked: CA/ABJ/CV/994/2020, upheld the argument by EFCC’s lawyer, Oluwaleke Atolagbe that Justice Mohammed ought to have declined jurisdiction over Omokore and his firm’s fundamental rights enforcement suit.
Justice Ige held that the suit was wrongly constituted, thereby denying the trial court the jurisdiction to entertain it.
He said Omokore and Energy Property could not lawfully file a joint suit to enforce their fundamental rights under Section 46(3) of the Constitution, adding that each of them ought to have filed separate suits to challenge the alleged violation of their rights
Justice Ige added: “It is trite that a court cannot adjudicate upon a matter that is not initiated in accordance with due process. A court cannot adjudicate on an incompetent action or an action commenced in violation of the law or the Constitution. Any proceeding conducted without jurisdiction will be rendered null and void. ab initio.”
“I am of the view that, since the action was not properly constituted, the lower court has no competence or vires to have entertained the action as it was incompetent.
“The settled position of the law is that where it is shown or established that the lower court has no jurisdiction in a matter, the appellate court will declare the proceeding a nullity and strike out the action.”
In determining the case on the merit, the Appeal Court found that, by in the evidence presented before the lower court, the EFCC acted lawfully in freezing the accounts and seizing the assets involved.
It proceeded to set aside the orders made by Justice Mohammed, struck out the suit by Omokore and his firm, and restored the freezing and interim forfeiture orders made on May 3, 2016 by Justice Binta Nyako (also of the Federal High Court, Abuja.)
In a separate decision, the Court of Appeal in Abuja granted a request by the EFCC for permission to appeal a ruling delivered by Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja in the trial of former Head of Service of the Federation (HOSF), Stephen Oronsaye and others on fraud related charges.
Those being tried with Oronsaye in the charge marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/297/2015 are Osarenkhoe Afe, Frederick Hamilton Global Services Limited, Cluster Logistics Limited, Kangolo Dynamic Cleaning Limited and Drew Investment & Construction Company Limited.
The EFCC had attempted, in the course of the trial, to tender two confessional statements made by Afe, but Justice Ekwo, in a ruling on October 6, 2020 upheld the objection raised by the defence and rejected the documents on the grounds that the statements were made in the absence of Afe’s lawyer.
Justice Ekwo, in a subsequent ruling on December 21, 2020 declined the prosecution’s request for leave to appeal the October 6, 2020 ruling, stating that such interlocutory appeal could be combined with any appeal to be filed at the conclusion of trial. Nation
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