Current and Public Opinion
REPORTS coming in the past few days claimed that the arraignment of Erastus Akingbola in relation to the N41.7billion fraud has collapsed. These reports are as painful to me as many Nigerians that have genuine interest in upholding righteousness in Nigeria beyond just prayers.
However, I believed that we NEED to analyze issues very well in order to find a lasting solution, prevent doing the same error, and to educate those who do nothing than swallow whatever news that are coming out, and take their comments henceforth without due analysis of the issue/s. Such people end up apportioning blames to those who have nothing to do with the issue and much energy is required to bring these individuals back on track. May I say here that the Nigeria media need to be reporting responsibly so as not to heat the Nigeria polity un-necessarily.
Let’s look at the case:
WAS ERASTUS AKINGBOLA DECLARED ''NOT GUILTY?''
The case of the Appeal Court striking out the judgment of the Lagos High Court for lack of jurisdiction in dealing with Akingbola's case was NOT a pronouncement of ''NOT GUILTY OR GUILTY'' What the Appeal Court has stated is that the lower court has no jurisdiction to hear the case and in its judgment, it specifically stated where the case should have been lodged by EFCC, which is the prosecuting anti-graft agency, as well as a CASE LAW substantiating that judgment.
THE ROLE OF CASE LAWS
The use of ''case law'' in legal proceedings is an acceptable standard all over the world. For the benefit of those that are not learned in the legal profession (I am not a lawyer but took interest in Law), ''case law'' is a previous judgment in a similar case, which is relied on by either the prosecutor or the defendant in a fresh and unconnected case. The purpose of this is for the presiding judge to look at the previous established judgment and check it, like-for-like, with the case before him/her. A case law is a factual evidence that the presiding judge in any legal proceeding must give consideration.
WAS AKINGBOLA SMART OR THE EFCC DELIBERATELY STUPID?
Erastus Akingbola was arraigned before the Lagos High Court and at the start of his case, he filed an application (and his second accused) challenging the jurisdiction of the Lagos High Court to hear his case. The presiding judge at the Lagos High Court refused that application, without checking the factual evidences provided by Erastus (which I believed related to a case law) and claimed that it had jurisdiction. That judgment on jurisdiction was the case Erastus Akingbola took to the Appeal Court; the case of whether he is guilty of the fraud charge or not has not even come up at this junction.
In dealing with the case at the Appeal Court, the presiding judge noted that a CASE LAW existed which gave the direction on how to deal with cases arising from capital market transaction, and this was the area Erastus Akingbola perpetrated the fraud he's accused of. Please read excerpts:
(Delivering the judgement, Justice Augie declared that the lower court fell into serious error by not abiding by the decision on Nwosu’s case adding, “it is most unfair and is an injustice”. According to her, the lower court has no option than to follow the decision of the higher court on Nwosu’s case. “The point must be made that the decision of this court in Nwosu’s case was based on proof of evidence”.
The judge noted that all the charges against the defendants arose out of capital market transactions. “Only federal high court is conferred with the exclusive jurisdiction to try cases of capital market transaction,” she stressed) - end.
The point of this post is the issue of the CASE LAW which the presiding judge noted as NWOSU's CASE.
Unfortunately for EFCC, the NWOSU’'s case was not in regard to any other prosecutor but EFCC. It was the same EFCC that took NWOSU to the High Court, on/about December 2013 and the judgment was given that any case arising from the capital market transaction must be laid before the Federal High Court and not a Lower Court. In fact, the NWOSU's case is still on the website of EFCC.
So the question is, SINCE EFCC KNEW, AS FAR BACK AS DECEMBER 2013 THAT THE LOWER COURT HAS NO JURISDICTION TO TRY A CASE ARISING FROM THE CAPITAL MARKET TRANSACTION (A CASE LAW STILL ON ITS WEBSITE), WHY WOULD IT ARRAIGN ERASTUS AKINGBOLA AT THE LOWER COURT? IS THIS DELIBERATE?
Since the report of the judgment came out, I've seen people pointing accusing fingers at people who had nothing to do with the case especially in the area of court jurisdiction. I'll be specific here for the purpose of posterity. The president has nothing to do with the operation of the judiciary system, in fact, the judiciary is meant to be an independent arm. And, while we cannot claim to be ignorant on how the executive, as well as the other arms of government in Nigeria, have been influencing one another for selfish purposes, this particular court jurisdiction issue is simply a judicial and legal process which should be followed.
Mind you, a case law could be overturned if someone challenged it successfully, and I would expect that the Nigeria Bar Association and the NGOs in related fields should start assessing some of the laws that we have with the purpose of putting pressure on the executive and the legislators to review them for the benefits of natural and communal justice.
WHAT NEXT FOR EFCC V ERASTUS AKINGBOLA?
Just as I mentioned at the start of this note, Erastus Akingbola has not been declared ''NOT GUILTY NOR GUILTY'' What the Appeal Court has issued as its judgment is that the Lagos High Court has no jurisdiction to hear the case of Akingbola because it arose from the capital market transaction. The judgment has informed EFCC, just as the judgment of NWOSU in December 2013 informed it, that it's only a Federal High Court that could deal with such cases.
I know that Nigerians, many times wants immediate justice but since we have a Constitution and an established judiciary with laid our legal processes and procedures, we are under an obligation to reasonably follow the process. Mind you and I believed that we all know this, an accused is innocent until proven guilty.
MY REASONABLE EXPECTATION IS THAT EFCC SHOULD ARRAIGN ERASTUS AKINGBOLA AT THE FEDERAL HIGH COURT IMMEDIATELY.
By Samuel Oludare Yerokun