Reprieve came the way of the embattled Chairman of Bi-Courtney Limited, Dr. Wale Babalakin, as Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal
High Court in Lagos Thursday, stopped the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from proceeding with his arraignment on alleged money laundering offences.
But the order from the Federal High Court was obviously not served on the EFCC, which went to the Ikeja High Court, Lagos, to arraign the lawyer cum business man, but was unable to do so owing to Babalakin's absence at the court on the grounds of ill health.
The EFCC had filed a 27-count charge against Babalakin and four others - Alex Okoh, Stabilini Visioni Limited, Bi-courtney Limited and Remix Nigeria Limited - for fraudulently transferring various sums of money amounting to N4.7 billion on behalf of the former governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, through third parties to some foreign accounts under the guise of purchasing a Challenger Jet Aircraft.
However, a source close to Babalakin explained that he was forced to sue the EFCC and Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) because their case against him and others is political.
He explained that the charges for money laundering had been investigated a long time ago and the case closed, only for it to resurface as a ploy to stop him from suing the Federal Government for the termination of the concession for the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway awarded to Bi-Courtney Highway Limited.
"The Federal Government knows that if Bi-Courtney and Babalakin sue, they will seek for compensation for the termination of the concession, so this is a ploy to distract and embarrass him. So the strategy is to show the case is political," he said.
Justice Idris, in a ruling on an ex-parte motion, granted leave to Babalakin to apply for a prohibition and certiorari order preventing the EFCC from perfecting plans to arraign him before the Lagos State High Court, Ikeja.
The judge, however, turned down two other prayers sought by Babalakin seeking specific prayers to restrain the respondents from prosecuting him, explaining that the prayers were unnecessary as they are already embedded in the leave granted.
Justice Idris ruled that the leave, according to Order 34 Rule 3 (6) of the Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules, should operate as a stay of all actions relating to the arraignment.
The rule reads: "If the relief sought is an order of prohibition or certiorari and the judge directs, the grant shall operate as a stay of the proceedings to which the application relates until the determination of the application or until the judge otherwise orders."
The judge adjourned the matter to December 12 for hearing of the motion on notice for interlocutory injunction against the EFCC and the AGF, Mohammed Bello Adoke.
The judge made the order after entertaining arguments from Babalakin's lawyer, Wale Akoni (SAN).
Akoni had urged the court to grant the relief sought to prevent the EFCC and Adoke from continuing with their act of illegality.
He said Babalakin's rights had been seriously trampled upon, adding that the EFCC even continued to extract statements from him after the charge at the Lagos High Court was filed, not minding the fact that he had been deceived that no such thing would happen.
Akoni further argued that the action of the EFCC and Adoke in preferring charges against Babalakin before the Lagos High Court was not done in accordance with the constitution, the EFCC Act and the Criminal Code Laws of Lagos State.
He said the authority to prefer a charge at the high court of any state is the attorney general of that state, whose fiat must be clearly exhibited on the face of the charge, adding that in the instant case, no fiat of the Lagos State Attorney General was exhibited to the charge.
The failure by Adoke and EFCC to exhibit the fiat of Lagos attorney general, according to Akoni, makes the charge filed at the Lagos High Court unconstitutional.
Akoni further explained why the issue was not raised before the Lagos State High Court, saying doing so would amount to challenging the court's jurisdiction.
He said: "We are not challenging the jurisdiction of the Lagos State High Court, we are only challenging the legality of the actions of the respondents."
However, Babalakin's much awaited arraignment yesterday before an Ikeja High Court was stalled due to his absence on the grounds of ill health.
Babalakin's counsel, Mr. Ebun Sofunde (SAN) told the court presided over by Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo that Babalakin had been admitted at the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LUTH).
Sofunde informed the court that a letter and medical report dated November 26, by Babalakin's doctor, Dr. Charles Harmon, had earlier been forwarded to the court registrar.
He said Babalakin's health deteriorated immediately after he appeared before the EFCC in Abuja on November 26 for questioning probably due to the stress he went through.
He therefore asked the court to adjourn the matter to allow his client recover from the illness.
Although, EFCC's counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), did not oppose the request for adjournment, he however did not hide his disappointment at the turn of events, saying he was shocked at the antics being employed by Babalakin.
He informed the court that Babalakin was in the EFCC office in Abuja on the said date he purportedly took ill and did not show any sign of illness.
The second defendant, Alex Okoh, represented by Mr. Tayo Oyetibo (SAN) was in court.
In his short ruling on the matter, Justice Onigbanjo asked the EFCC counsel to verify Babalakin's admission at LUTH.