2 April 2012

Nigeria: EFCC Vs Akingbola - Court Bars Five SANs for Incompetence

JUSTICE Charles Archibong of Federal High Court sitting in Lagos yesterday dismissed the 26 count charge of financial impropriety filed against the former Managing Director of lntercontinental Bank Plc, Dr Erastus Akingbola of by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC).

He also barred the prosecution team, composed of five Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SANs) from bringing the case up in any Federal High Court for their incompetence and abuse of court process.

The trial judge, Justice Archibong also barred the team from appearing before his court or another judge of the Federal High Court over the matter on what the he termed 'serious and professional incompetence'.

The judge in his ruling, however, did not name the affected senior counsels.

Justice Archibong further directed the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke (SAN), to disband, sack and debrief the team and their respective firms from handling the matter for serious abuse of court process and incompetence in their prosecution of the charges against Akingbola.

According to the judge, the prosecution team is 'a drain on the public purse, a fact the AGF should be mindful of now if he was not so before.

'This prosecution team has chosen to pursue a campaign to scandalise the court, which amounts to serious and professional incompetence, in the prosecution of the accused.

'This prosecution team or any part of it shall not be given further audience in this court in relation to the charges against the accused either before this presiding judge or any other judge of the Federal High Court, for the reason, I have given in the foregoing.'

According to the judge, 'Furthermore, I take judicial notice that the accused herein is presently facing charges before the Lagos High Court emanating from his tenure as the Managing Director and chief executive officer of the Intercontinental Bank Plc.

The AGF may wish to regain control of this process and his untrammelled right to prosecute the accused in another charge he chooses before any appropriate court, as he can, of course, do so at any time of his choosing.

'Meanwhile, the prosecuting team presently employed, indulging in professional incompetence to the extreme had been unmindful of the accused's right to have the case against him clearly stated.

They have been dismissive of his right to a 'speedy' trial, which in reality should be the credible procedure.'

'I, therefore, dismiss the charges amended or otherwise for this incompetent and abusive prosecuting team.

I discharge the accused accordingly and leave the AGF to consider his options,' the judge consequently ruled adding that 'this enrolled order shall be served to the AGF and the prosecution team.'

Justice Archibong stated: 'I shall be referring the conduct of the learned senior advocates that led the prosecuting team to the legal practitioners privileges committee (LPPC) for further consideration and determination of the issues raised.

'The record of these proceedings shall be forwarded to the AGF and the LLPC.'

However, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in its reaction to the outcome of the case stated that 'the above matter came up for ruling on the accused persons objection to the amendment of the charge sought by the prosecution in this case.

The Motion against amending the charge was argued by Fagbongbe SAN while same was opposed by E C Ukala SAN.

The Judge after reviewing the case and its history held that the prosecution was within its powers to amend the charge even though he had his reservations about the way it was done.'

'Having said that, he asked counsel for the prosecution, Godwin Obla, what was next to which we craved his indulgence to release the court records to us to compile records for the pending appeal requesting him to excuse himself from all EFCC related matters on grounds of likelihood of bias.'

The apex bank further said that 'at this juncture his lordship asked to be excused for two minutes.

He came back about 30 minutes later and proceeded to read what had the trappings of a ruling even though there was no application before him neither did he raise any issue(s) suo motu to which counsel on either side were called upon to address the court on.'

'In his purported ruling he said 'the five senior Advocates prosecuting were indolent and incompetent, he was recommending to the Attorney General of the Federation to disband the team as it was a drain on the resources of the state.

He was also dismissing the charge against the accused person and discharging him and making a further order preventing any Judge of the Federal High court from hearing the matter if it was re-filed in the court, he was also recommending that the AGF also disband the prosecution team in the State High court.'

'It is interesting to note that the angst of the Judge is that notwithstanding that he ruled in favour of the prosecution, we still insisted on prosecuting the appeal against his order refusing to excuse himself from the matter.

The CBN also alleged that 'in the course of compiling the records the Judge personally took the file to his house and deliberately frustrated the timely compilation of the records necessitating Mr Obla's application for him to release the records.'

Before discharging Akingbola, the court had earlier in its ruling allowed the prosecution to amend the charges, even though it was contested by Chief Felix Fagbohungbe (SAN), counsel to Akingbola, on the ground that the prosecution was employing a piecemeal approach in its prosecution of the charges.'

The court had asked Akingbola to take his plea on the new charge, before Chief Godwin Obla for the prosecution decided to urge the court to take the application for stay of proceedings pending appeal of the court's earlier decision.

But drama ensued when the court allowed Obla to move the application for a stay, only for him to ask for adjournment, which he said would enable him compile the record of the appeal the prosecution filed on February 7, 2012.

Infuriated by this application, Justice Archibong, said the prosecution team was incompetent and had abused the court process.

The judge also noted that prosecution were not willing to commence the trial, hence the several applications they were bringing to the court at the detriment of the accused's right for speedy trial and dismissed the charge.

The prosecution, it will be recalled had amended their charges against Akingbola up to three times before the same judge.

The court added that no matter how unfortunate that might be, it would allow the amendment of charges and for the amended charges of 13 December 2010.

The trial judge ordered that the amended charges of 26 January, 2010, filed on 29 January, 2010, 'is hereby struck out.'

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