Justice Hakeem Oshodi of Ikeja High Court in Lagos on Tuesday struck out the corruption suit the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) filed against Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, a dismissed judge of the Federal High Court, and Mr Godwin Obla, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN,.
Delivering the ruling, Justice Oshodi held that based on the judicial precedent set by the case of Justice Nganjiwa V. FRN, the High Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the suit as the EFCC “jumped the gun” in filing the first amended charge.
He noted that in spite of the anti-graft commission being aware of the decision in Nganjiwa’s case, regarding the proper procedure to discipline erring judicial officers, the EFCC still went ahead with the trial by calling more witnesses.
“As at Monday, Dec. 11, 2017, the EFCC was aware of the decision reached by the Court of Appeal in Nganjiwa vs FRN. As at that date, the amended information was yet to be filed and the 12th prosecution witness was still giving evidence.
“The prosecution persisted like a bull running amok and still called two more witnesses and precious judicial time was wasted.
“We have not found a way in the judicial atmosphere to discipline or penalise an agency of government through fines or costs.
“In conclusion, the court has no jurisdiction to hear the first amended charge of Feb. 21, 2018 of 31 counts. This suit is hereby struck out.”
While delivering his judgment in the Nganjiwa’s case, Justice Obaseki Adejumo of the Court of Appeal held that the EFCC does not have power to investigate and prosecute serving judicial officers.
Adejumo said that National Judicial Council (NJC) must first strip the appellant (Hon. Justice Nganjiwa) of his judicial standing before he could be charged.
The Court of Appeal judge had further stated that serving judicial officers can only be prosecuted for offence like murder, stealing etc done outside the discharge of their duties.
That once the offence was committed in the discharge of their duties, they must first be tried by NJC
During proceedings on Jan. 25, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, the lead prosecuting counsel for the EFCC via a written address dated Dec. 13, 2018, urged the court to strike out the charge because the EFCC did not charge Ofili-Ajumogobia in line with the NJC guidelines.
Mr Robert Clarke, SAN, the defence counsel to Ofili-Ajumogobia in an application dated Nov. 27, 2018, had said the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case, and had urged the court to discharge and acquit his client.
Mr Ifedayo Adedipe, SAN, the defence counsel to Mr Godwin Obla, SAN, Ofili-Ajumogobia’s co-defendant, urged the court to separate the joint charges of the defendants.
Addressing the issues raised in the submissions of the defence counsel on Jan. 25, Justice Oshodi in Tuesday’s ruling, said court cannot discharge Ofili-Ajumogobia, neither can the charges against Obla be severed.
“The order of discharge for the first defendant cannot hold. The court cannot also serve a charge as proposed by the counsel to the second defendant.
“The charge has to be amended and the second defendant has to retake his plea,” he said.
Previously, on Sep. 14, 2018, the EFCC had closed its case against the embattled former judge.
In proving its case of corruption against her, the EFCC had presented 14 witnesses and tendered several documents that were admitted in evidence by the court.
The anti-graft commission in an amended charge dated Feb. 23, 2018, had alleged that Ofili-Ajumogobia had illegally received a sum of 793,800 dollars in several tranches from different sources between 2012 and 2015.
On his part, Obla (SAN) was alleged by the EFCC to have offered a sum of N5 million as gratification to Ofili-Ajumogobia, so as to pervert the course of justice.