Akpobolokemi loses bid to quash N754.7m fraud charges

A Lagos State High Court in Igbosere, Lagos, on Monday dismissed the preliminary objection raised by a former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Patrick Akpobolokemi, against the 13 counts of alleged N754.7m fraud charges filed against him.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission charged Akpobolokemi and six others with the alleged fraud before Justice Raliat Adebiyi.

His alleged accomplices are Ezekiel Agaba, Ekene Nwakuche, Governor Juan, Vincent Udoye, Adegboyega  Olopoenia and Gama Marine Nigeria Limited.

The charge, marked LD/2181C/15, bordering on stealing and forgery was the fifth that the EFCC filed against Akpobolokemi.

Upon being arraigned on January 25, the accused persons had all pleaded not guilty.

Akpobolokemi and the 4th defendant, Juan, subsequently filed separate preliminary objections challenging the jurisdiction of the Lagos State High Court to entertain the charges against them.

Akpobolokemi’s lawyer Joseph Nwobike (SAN) argued that the Lagos State High Court could not entertain the charges against his client as the alleged fraud pertained to Federal Government revenues.

According to Nwobike, by the provisions of Section 251 (1) (a) and (3) of the constitution only the Federal High Court reserves the exclusive jurisdiction to try such an offence.

Lawyer for the 4th defendant Ige Asemudara also argued that the Lagos State High Court could not entertain the charges against Juan.

But in a ruling yesterday, Justice Adebiyi dismissed both applications, declaring them premature, incompetent and lacking in merit.

The judge held that contrary to the defendants’ argument, the offence of stealing that they were charged with by the EFCC was within the purview of the Lagos State High Court to try.

Justice Adebiyi also held that the defendants misconceived the reasoning of the Supreme Court in the case of Bode George versus the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which they cited and relied on.

The judge pointed out that contrary to their submission, the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of Bode George because he was convicted on an offence that was unknown to law at the time and not because the politician was prosecuted before the Lagos State High Court.

The judge agreed with the argument of the EFCC prosecutor, Rotimi Oyedepo, that it was too early in the day for the defendants to conclude that the EFCC had no sufficient evidence against them when the prosecution had not opened its case.

The EFCC had in its counter-affidavit described the preliminary objections as premature, insisting that the evidence it had against the defendants was “overwhelming”.

Oyedepo described the preliminary objections as “a calculated attempt to frustrate the expeditious hearing of this case”.

He said, “The defendants’ applications are incompetent and premature at this stage of the proceedings in that the application is challenging the competence of the charge on the grounds that there was no sufficient evidence in the proof of evidence to ground their conviction before this honourable court.

“The proof of evidence before this honourable court is overwhelming, direct and irresistibly linked the defendants to the alleged offence.”

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