Abuja–A Federal High Court has discharged former Imo State Governor Rochas Okorocha and six others over a three billion fraud charge.
The suit was brought against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
In a ruling on Monday, Justice Inyang Ekwo upheld the objection raised by the defendants against the propriety of the charge.
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Justice Ekwo held that the EFCC acted unlawfully when it ignored the directive by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and initiated the criminal proceeding against Okorocha and others.
The judge also held that the EFCC, like every other law enforcement/prosecuting agency, was under the obligation to defer to the directive of the AGF in deciding whether or not to prosecute an alleged offender.
Justice Ekwo held that the failure of the EFCC to comply with the directive of the AGF that it should submit the case file in the matter involving Okorocha and others for review rendered the criminal proceeding it initiated against them a nullity.
The judge voided the proceeding and discharged the defendants – Okorocha, Nyerere Chinyere, Naphtali International Limited, Perfect Finish Multi Projects Limited, Consolid Projects Consulting Limited, Pramif International Limited, and Legend World Concepts Limited.
He averred that the directive of the AGF, in a letter dated: September 12, 2022, to the EFCC to forward the case file as well as the EFCC’s comments on the issues for consideration and review were binding on the commission.
“All that the law required of the respondent (EFCC) was for the respondent, when directed by the HAGF, pursuant to any enactment, is to comply and not act as if it was not under the law or is exempted thereby.
“For the avoidance of doubt, the office of the HAGF is founded on the provisions of the constitution and is thereby preserved.
“The controversies and drama surrounding this trial proceeding are needless and it is time to stop such.”
The judge held that from the moment the AGF gave the directive to the EFCC, the commission ceased to have the legal authority to prosecute or continue the prosecution of the case.
Justice Ekwo said:
“In other words, the intervention of the HAGF in any criminal proceedings ends the authority of the prosecuting agency in the matter unless otherwise directed by the HAGF.
“In the end, I find that non-compliance by the respondent with the directive of the HAGF, as stated in Exhibit Okorocha 7, is fatal to this proceeding and has rendered it a nullity.
“The respondent is not empowered by any law to continue with this proceeding after the HAGF had issued the directive in Exhibit Okorocha 7.
“With Exhibit Okorocha 7, it is only the HAGF that can decide whether or not to charge the defendants upon the case file being remitted to his office as directed.”
According to the judge, the defendant’s contention that the earlier judgment of a court of coordinate jurisdiction sitting in Port Harcourt, in a suit between Okorocha and EFCC, retraining the commission from further proceeding on the alleged offence, had not been set aside.
Justice Ekwo ruled that the order was binding until it was set aside.
The Justice said:
“The fact that a person refuses to comply with the law does not change the law, neither does the law change to accommodate the act of non-compliance by any person.
“What happens when a person elects not to comply with the law is that the law turns its back on the person.
“When that happens, every action or decision taken by such person in the process of non-compliance becomes illegal and the court will set aside such act of non-compliance ex debito justitiae.
“This is so because there is no machination that can be used to salvage an illegal act.
“I, therefore, make an order striking out the charge which found this proceeding. The consequence is that the defendants are discharged.”
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