The Court of Appeal in Lagos, Nigeria, has ordered a fresh trial in the conspiracy and money-laundering case against the former Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji.
The Appeal Court made the decision while setting aside the ruling of a Federal High Court which had cleared the former Speaker and his Personal Assistant, Oyebode Atoyebi, of the allegations.
In the ruling, delivered by Justice Biobela Georgewill, the appellate court unanimously invalidated the verdict of Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court in Lagos.
Other members of the three-man panel were Justice Sidi Dauda Bage and Justice Ugochukwu Ogakwu.
The court further ordered that the new trial must begin before a judge of the Federal High Court, Lagos division, other than Justice Buba, in the light of the far-reaching findings already made by him.
It would be recalled that on September 26, 2014, Justice Buba discharged Mr. Ikuforiji and Mr. Atoyebi in a 56-count charge of conspiracy and money laundering of the sum of N500 million belonging to the Assembly, an offence EFCC prosecutor Godwin Obla said, contravened Sections 15 (1d) and 16(1d) of the Money Laundry Act of 2004 and 2011.
Justice Buba, while discharging the Speaker and his aide on a no-case submission filed by the two, held that the EFCC had failed to establish a prima-facie case against them, and failed to prove any of the ingredients of the crime of money-laundering.
In a Notice of Appeal filed at the Court of Appeal on September 30, 2014, the EFCC asked the Court of Appeal to hold that Justice Buba erred in law when he held and concluded that counts 2-48 were incompetent because they were filed pursuant to Section 1(a) of the Money Laundering Act 2004, which said law was repealed by the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act of 2011.
The EFCC further contended that the lower court erred in law when it held that the provision of Section 1 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004 and 2011 only applies to natural persons and corporate bodies other than such government offices such as the office of the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly.
The commission also submitted that the trial judge erred when he held and concluded that the case of the prosecution witnesses supported the innocence of the respondent.
Justice Georgewill held that the offences created by Section 1 of the Money Laundering Act 2004 and 2011 respectively are strict liability offences and that their proof does not depend on the approval or purposes the money was used for, once the amount is above the threshold amount and was not paid or received through a financial institution either by an individual or a body corporate.
“Regrettably, the court below went on a voyage of its own, discussing cash payment of millions made to the Super Eagles in Brazil, even without any scintilla of evidence before it, instead of remaining focused on the issue at hand,” he said.
“Does the fact that all persons likely to have committed a particular alleged offence had not been prosecuted a reason for the court to decline jurisdiction of one of them being prosecuted? Certainly not.
“I consider many of the issues raised so randomly by the court below as irrelevant and inconsequential to the just determination of the question before it, which is, whether the appellant made out a prima facie case against the respondents or not.”
He described as “very worrisome” the attitude of the lower court “considering between the decision of this court and its own decision on which one to follow, even when its attention was called to the decision of this court.”
He said that attitude was bizarre and not in sync with judicial attitude toward the time-honoured doctrine of “stare decisis,” adding that it was pure rascality, impertinence and disregard for judicial hierarchy in Nigeria.
Setting aside the decision of the lower court, he concluded: “I have no difficulty resolving the sole issue for determination in the negative against the respondents in favour of the appellant and I hold firmly therefore, that the appeal has merit and ought to be allowed.”
The case file will now be sent back to the Chief judge of the Federal High Court for re-assignment to another judge for the trial of the former speaker and his aide to start afresh.