26th July, 2010
The former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai, this morning mounted an extensive legal battle to quash the charges slammed on him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
He alongside two others were accused of abuse of office and criminal breach of trust.
The former minister was alleged to have revoked a large parcel of land originally allocated to the Nigerian Postal Service and another belonging to Power Holding Company of Nigeria which he allocated to his cronies, includingÂ his wives and the daughter of former President Olusegun Obasanjo who is a serving senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello.
At the resumed hearing this morning, the former minister through his lawyer, Chief Akin Olujinmi, a senior advocate of Nigeria, told the court that the preliminary objection which was filed on behalf of the former minister is challenging the courtâ€™s jurisdiction to entertain the charges brought against him by the anti-graft agency.
The senior advocate submitted that the anti-graft agency charged his client under the ICPC Act 2000 but observed that under that Act, it is the FCT High Court which can try anyone forÂ violating the Act and not the Federal High Court.
Pointing out sections 26 (2) and 61 (3) of the ICPC Act, Chief Olujinmi noted that prosecution under this Act shall be filed in any superior court as may be designated by the Chief Judge of a state or the FCT.
He observed that no mention was made about the Federal High Court that would enable the court to entertain the charge brought against the former minister.
The lawyer further noted that from the reply to their preliminary objection filed by the prosecutor, Mr. Adebayo Adelokun, SAN, they have admitted that the ICPC Act 2000 had been repealedÂ and wondered why his client should not be allowed to go home free having been charged on a repealed law.
According to Chief Olujinmi, “You canâ€™t try a man based on a law under which he was not charged, it is not about a defect, error or misstating the law, but on the jurisdiction of this court to entertain the charge. The charges must be quashed.â€
The prosecutor, Mr. Adebayo Adelokun, opposed the call on the court to quash the charges and argued that el-Rufaiâ€™s objection to his trial primarily dwells on Section 26 (2) and 61(3) of the ICPC Act 2000 which, according to him, were casualties of the repealed Act of 2000.
He further submitted that some provisions of the repealed ICPC Act 2000 were retained in the amendment Act of 2003 and that the former Minister and the other persons were arraigned under Section 19 of the ICPC Act 2000 which was retained in the ICPC Act 2003 as section 21.
According to the lawyer, â€œthey conceded that the 2000 Act had been repealed. By that admission, their objection has fallen flat on its face. The repeal of the 2000 Act does not and cannot be interpreted as exonerating the accused persons from their trial. The appropriate time for an accused to object to any defect in a charge should be on arraignment before taking their plea. They were arraigned on the 12th of May, 2010 when the charges were read to them and they took their pleas before the court in the presence of their lawyers. It is too late for them to complain against the charge now.â€
Continuing, the prosecutor argued that when an accused person is charged under a written law, the misstatement of the law will not affect the validity of that charge and urged the court to either assume jurisdiction and try the accused persons or to transfer the matter to the FCT High Court for the accused persons to go there and face their trial.
The presiding judge, Justice Adamu Bello thereafter adjourned the matter till 13 October 2010 to rule on whether on not the court has the jurisdiction to entertain the matter.
Meanwhile, a strong delegation of Abuja United Market Womenâ€™s Association thronged the court this morning to show solidarity to the former minister whom they said brought sanity in the markets scattered within the Abuja metropolis.
The former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu and Mr. Babafemi Ojudu, an Action Congress senatorial aspirant in Ekiti State were among the dignitaries who were in court to express support for the former minister.
By Nnamdi Felix / Abuja