A Lagos State High Court yesterday fixed April 14 and 20 for trial in a N754,740,680.00 case of fraud against an ex-Director-General of the Nigeria Maritime Administration Safety Agency, (NIMASA) Patrick Akpobolokemi, and six others.
Justice Raliat Adebiyi ruled after dismissing preliminary objections by Akpobolokemi and two others challenging the court’s jurisdiction to hear the suit instituted against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for allegedly stealing N754,740,680 belonging to NIMASA.
Akpobolokemi was arraigned with Captain Ezekiel Agaba, Ekene Nwakuche, Governor Amechee Juan, Vincent Udoye, Captain Adegboyega Sahib Olopoenia and a company, Gama Marine Nigeria Limited on a 13-count of stealing N754,740,680.
Akpobolokemi, through his lawyer, Dr. Joseph Nwobike (SAN), filed a notice of preliminary objection on February 12, challenging the court’s jurisdiction.
He argued that by sections 251 (1) (a) and (3) of the Constitution, the Federal High Court has exclusive jurisdiction on matters and causes arising from, pertaining to and or is connected with the revenue of Federal Government agencies.
Also, the fourth defendant, Juan, through his counsel, Ige Asemudara, filed a similar application.
But Justice Adebiyi dismissed the objections because they lacked merit.
The court held that the applicants wrongly raised the issue of double jeopardy, adding that there was no connection between the two charges against some of the defendants at the Federal High Court and the one at the High Court of Lagos State.
Justice Adebiyi held that the offence was triable by the Lagos High Court and that it was be too early to determine whether or not the Lagos High Court lacked jurisdiction.
The court noted that the issue of jurisdiction could be raised at any stage of the proceeding, adding that if raised during trial it would be determined.
Justice Adebiyi stated that the applicants cannot rely on the Supreme Court’s judgment in Bode George vs Federal Government.
The court noted that Bode George’s conviction was upturned because his offence was unknown to law, and not because the Lagos High Court lacked jurisdiction.
The applicants had, in their preliminary objections, argued that sections 251 (1) (a), (P) and (3) of the Constitution supersedes the Criminal Code Laws of Lagos State 2011 and that of the EFCC Establishment Act, 2004.
They also argued that the High Court of Lagos State lacked the requisite jurisdiction to entertain criminal causes and matters arising from and or pertaining to; revenue of the Federal Government, administration or management and control of the Federal Government or any of its agencies, by virtue of sections 251 (1) (a) (p) and (3) of the Constitution of Nigeria, 1999 as amended’’.
But EFCC, in its counter affidavit, urged the court to refuse the application in the interest of justice as evidence linked the applicants to the alleged offence.
The defendants were arraigned on January 25, 2016, by EFCC for the allegedly stealing N754,740,680 million belonging to NIMASA.
They pleaded not guilty and were granted bail.
The defendants were alleged to have on, or about May 28, 2015, with a dishonest intent converted to their use N257,000,000 released for the implementation of Voluntary International Maritime Organisation Member State Audit Scheme (VIMSAS).
The defendants were further alleged to have, with intent to defraud, knowingly forged a document “Re: Request for Payment as consultant for VIMSAS Administration Services”, dated May 25, 2015, purported to have been issued by Aroward Consulting limited.