Nigerian Reps on trial challenge court's power


Nnamdi felix/Abuja

An Abuja High Court on Monday, adjourned till 2 July to deliver ruling on two separate applications filed by the embattled suspended Chairman of the House Committee on Capital Market, Herman Hembe and his Deputy, Azubuogu Ifeanyi.

Hembe is challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the two-count charge preferred against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, while his Deputy is contesting the leave granted the anti-graft agency to prefer the charge against them.

At today’s proceedings, counsel to Hembe, Mr. Jibrin Okutepa, a senior advocate of Nigeria, informed the court that they filed a preliminary objection urging the court to quash the two-count charge on the ground that the court lacks the inherent jurisdiction to try his client.

The senior advocate also argued that the subject matter of the suit is still being investigated by the House of Representatives Committee on Ethics and Privileges.

He submitted that the counter-affidavit filed against their application by the anti graft agency contains extraneous facts and purports to make the EFCC a respondent in the suit. This, he observed, is contrary to the Evidence Act, adding that there is contrivance and falsity of information.

“By virtue of Section 89 of the 1999 constitution, it is the National Assembly that has the jurisdiction to investigate this matter, I urge this court to quash the charge against the 1st accused (Hembe) as this prosecution is nothing but persecution and a waste of public money”.

Chief Onyechi Ikpeazu, also a senior advocate of Nigeria, representing Hon Azubuogu Ifeanyi, argued that since the report of the House’ Ethics committee is yet to be released, it will not be in the interest of justice for the court to try his client. He averred that the court must rely on an investigative report before trial”.

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According to Chief Ikpeazu,“There is a case inadequacy of documents and so there is no case for the 2nd accused person to answer to, especially as he sought to return the money through the Clerk of the House, only for the Director-General of SEC to ask him to keep the money, since there will be another conference.”

He further contended that the absence of Ms. Aruma Oteh, the Director General of Security Exchange Commission in this case exposes the complicity in it.

Citing Section 167 (b) of the Evidence Act, Ikpeazu argued that the prosecution is bound to produce all criminal documents to the court to warrant trial and the absence of the DG of SEC in this case exposes the complicity in it.

In his objection however, EFCC’s counsel, Mr. Ojeifu Ibe, urged the court to dismiss the two applications and determine whether the purpose for which the estacode was given was used.

He argued in his counter-affidavit that, the 1999 constitution only gave the National Assembly law making powers, and not powers to investigate.

Before adjourning till July 2 for ruling, the presiding judge, Justice Umar Sadiq, ruled on an oral application made by the EFCC for the accused persons to enter the dock. He stated that the court must clear the issue of jurisdiction first as it once held in the case of El-Rufai vs FRN before the arraignment of the embattled House of Reps members would take place.

Hembe and Ifeanyi are facing a 2-count charge of converting to their personal use the sum of about N600,000 being money allegedly released by the Security and Exchange Commission, SEC, for them to travel to the Dominican Republic for a refresher conference in October, 2011.