Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja has questioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission over its decision to freeze the accounts of a former Head of Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita.
This comes after Oyo-Ita protested in court.
The defendants, who expressed displeasure at the decision by the EFCC to approach another court for order of interim attachment of their accounts, on Tuesday, requested for an indefinite suspension of their trial.
Oyo-Ita, Frontline Ace Global Services Ltd, Asanaya Projects Ltd, Garba Umar, Slopes International Ltd and Gooddeal Investment Ltd, Ubong Okon Effiok, U & U Global Services Ltd and Prince Mega Logistics Ltd are being tried before Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja by the EFCC.
At the mention of the case on Tuesday, the prosecuting lawyer, Mohammed Abubakar told the court that he was ready to proceed with the trial, but one of the defence lawyers, Augustine Ananukwa (for the Umar) objected to the continuation of trial.
Ananukwa said “we are not ready because of the recent event. During the pendency of this suit, the bank account of the 4th defendant was frozen.
“We made enquiry on whose order was this account frozen, we discovered it was not coming from this court. We are unsure how the prosecution got the order,” he noted, arguing that such development constitutes an abuse of court process.
The defence lawyer argued that since the order freezing his client’s account was not granted by the court before which the defendants were being tried, he would not be able to proceed with the case.
He urged the court to direct the prosecution to immediately unfreeze the account, arguing that the act has subjected his client, a family man, to hardship.
Lawyer to the first defendant (Oyo-Ita), Paul Erokoro (SAN) urged the court to adjourned the case indefinitely in view of the complaint by lawyers Ananukwa that the EFCC went before another court to obtain an order while the trial was pending before a separate court..
Erokoro said; “It is a very sad development. We just want to submit that appropriate order should be made.
“We urge the honourable court to adjourn this proceeding sine die until the prosecution places evidence before this court that they have taken steps to correct this error and that they are now prepared to prosecute this matter in one court.”
Other defence lawyers in the case – Okechukwu Ajunwa and Chitoo Mbama spoke in similar vein, prompting Justice Taiwo to inquire from Abubakar who gave the order for the freezing of the defendants’ accounts.
Abubakar explained that the interim forfeiture order on the affected accounts was issued by Justice Folashade Giwa-Ogunbanjo (also of the Federal High Court, Abuja).
Following Abubakar’s explanation, Justice Taiwo noted that, by its conduct, the EFCC indicated that it lacked confidence in his court, for it to have taken an application before another court when the trial was still pending.
“When was this order gotten? I will not take this case. It means you did not tell Justice Ogunbanjo that this matter is pending.
“It is a slap on my face; a direct affront on my power as a judge of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. If you had told me this is what you have done, I wouldn’t have gone ahead at all.
“The EFCC cannot tell me they don’t have checks and balances,” he said, noting that he could not undo what the other court had done, because they are of coordinate jurisdiction.
Abubakar, who was apologetic and tried to distinguish both cases, pledged that an application would be filed to seek an order to unfreeze the accounts.
He said the application filed before the other court was a civil suit, filed at the Federal High Court (FHC) registry and the chief judge, in his wisdom, assigned it to the other judge.
Abubakar argued that, as against the impression created by the defendants,, the EFCC has confidence in the court.
“We submit that we did not engage in abuse of court process. We also did not file that application as a result of lack of confidence in any of the Judges of this honourable court.
“We only did it in pursuant to our statutory duty and utmost transparency. We affirm our confidence in your lordship’s ability to do justice in this matter and all other matters,” Abubakar said.
He objected to the defence’s request for indefinite adjournment, noting that such a request amounts to application for stay of proceeding, which offends the letter and spirit of Section 306 of Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015.
Justice Taiwo has adjourned till December 3 for ruling.
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