By Vivian Okejeme Abuja
The Economic and Financial Crime Commission, (EFCC) has asked the Lagos State High Court, to strike out charges against Justice Rita Ofili-Ajimogobia and Godwin Obla SAN.
The prosecution counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, at the resumed hearing on the matter, appealed to the court to strike out the charge before it and discharge the defendants.
Arguing the case, the prosecution cited his appeal to the court on the decision of the Court of Appeal in the case of NGANJIWA Vs FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA and the preliminary objection raised by counsel to Ofili-Ajumogobia, Robert Clarke SAN.
In the said matter, the Court of Appeal had held (that where there are allegations of misconduct or any breach of the law carried out in the course of a judicial officer’s functions, such a judicial officer must first be disciplined by the National Judicial Council before arraignment in a Court of law).
Oyedepo further conceded, in agreement with Clarke SAN, that the Court lacks the jurisdiction to try Ofili-Ajumogobia without first having recourse to the National Judicial Council.
However, the defense also pointed out to the court that Oyedepo, had been aware of the decision of the court of appeal in Nganjiwa’s case since it was delivered but deliberately failed to draw the court’s attention to it- thus giving the impression that the prosecution had set about to persecute and not prosecute the 1st defendant.
Going further, Clarke SAN, submitted that Oyedepo’s action constitutes an act of professional misconduct for which he (Oyedepo) ought to be sanctioned.
Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), leading Chief Ferdinand Orbih (SAN) and other members of the Defence team for Mr. Godwin Obla (SAN), Ofili-Ajumogobia’s co-defendant, however urged the court to separate the joint charges of the defendants and to permit Obla’s trial to continue, in the event that Ofili-Ajumogobia is discharged.
Adedipe SAN’s application was anchored on Section 151 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos which permits the severance of criminal charges and the separation of joint criminal trials.
Adedipe SAN, relying on the decision of the Court of Appeal in the recent case of SULE vs STATE (2018) 10 NWLR (Pt. 1628) 545 at 566-567, paras. G-A, also argued that where a Court is faced with a criminal trial where one of the defendants is unavailable or the charges against him/her are to be struck out, such a Court may proceed to separate the joint trial and proceed with the trial of one or more co-defendants on the existing charge.
“Salvation in Christendom is individual; I submit that the second defendant (Obla) is not a judicial officer covered by the decision in Ngajuwa’s case.
I’m inviting Your Lordship to separate the first defendant from the second defendant.
The subject matter is within the jurisdiction of the court and the second defendant is within the jurisdiction of the court. So the issue of jurisdiction does not apply to the second defendant,” Adedipe said.
Surprisingly, the prosecution through its Counsel (Oyedepo) vehemently opposed Adedipe SAN’s application. Instead, Oyedepo urged the Court to discharge both Ofili-Ajumogobia and Obla SAN.
According to Oyedepo, the entire charge is ‘fundamentally defective’ and so cannot be the basis of a competent trial. After hearing the arguments of all the parties, Justice H. Oshodi adjourned the trial to 19 April 2019 for Ruling.
It would be recalled that the trial of both defendants commenced on 28 November 2016. The prosecution had called a number of witnesses and had thereafter closed its case.
The 2nd defendant has also since September 2018 filed and served on the prosecution a No Case Submission.
More than 4 months after, prosecution has failed/neglected to issue a response to this No Case Submission.