The Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel, has filed an application challenging the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court in Lagos to entertain the money laundering charges filed against the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr Paul Usoro (SAN).
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission filed 10 counts charges against Usoro, wherein he was accused of money laundering and converting N1.4bn belonging to Akwa Ibom State Government to his own.
The EFCC claimed that Usoro converted and laundered the N1.4bn in connivance with Emmanuel.
Emmanuel was, however, not listed as a defendant in the charges, as the EFCC indicated that he is “currently constitutionally immune against criminal prosecution”.
Also mentioned in the body of the charges as Usoro’s alleged co-conspirators were Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Finance, Nsikan Nkan; the state’s Accountant General, Mfon Udomah; the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Uwemedimo Nwoko; and the cashier at the Akwa Ibom State Government House, Margaret Ukpe.
The court had at the previous hearing on March 1 issued a warrant for the arrest of the finance commissioner, accountant general, attorney general and the cashier.
Justice Rilwan Aikawa ordered that security agents should produce the four officials before him on Monday.
However, at the resumed hearing on Monday, the officials were not produced
Rather, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN) appeared for them and told the court he had filed an application praying the court to vacate the bench warrant against his clients.
Also, Dr Charles Mekwunye announced appearance for the governor and informed the judge that he filed an application on Emmanuel’s behalf challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the charges, wherein his name was mentioned despite that he enjoys immunity from prosecution.
On his part, Chief Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), who appeared as Usoro’s defence lawyer, filed an application, urging the court to direct the EFCC to serve on him a summarised witness statement of evidence of those listed to give evidence in the matter.
Of all the three applications, Justice Aikawa noted that only the one by Ozekhome was filed on time.
He said it would appear that other applications were filed late to delay the case.
He warned that he would not tolerate any move to delay hearing of the case.
The judge, eventually, adjourned till April 17 to hear all pending applications.
Justice Aikawa is the third judge to handle Usoro’s case, which was filed late last year.
Usoro was first arraigned on December 18, 2018 before Justice Muslim Hassan.
However, the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Adamu Abdul-Kafarati, withdrew the case file from Justice Hassan at Usoro’s request.
The matter was then transferred to Justice Chuka Obiozor.
But the second judge declined hearing the case for “personal reasons.”
It was as a result that the case was transferred to Justice Aikawa before whom Usoro was re-arraigned on March 1, 2019.
© Oladimeji Ramon