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Magu's Screening: Participation Of Saraki, Akpabio, 9 Others Amounts To Contempt Of Court

Senate President, Mr. Bukola Saraki; Minority Leader, Mr. Godswill Akpabio; and eight other senators have been warned against participating the screening and re-confirmation hearing of Mr. Ibrahim Magu for the position of substantive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Mr. Magu, the acting EFCC Chairman, was re-nominated by President Muhammadu Buhari and is scheduled to be screened by the Senate on Wednesday.

The warning to Saraki, Akpabio, and others was made by Mr. Inibehe Effiong, a lawyer. In a statement he issued on Tuesday, Mr. Effiong said the Senate President and 10 other colleagues are ineligible to participate in the nomination hearing and risk  being in contempt of court if they do. He explained that the Senate is aware of the pendency of a suit (No. FHC/ABJ/CS/102/2017) filed by anti-corruption activist, Mr.  Raji Rasheed Oyewumi,  against Mr. Saraki and 14 others before Justice Binta Nyako of   the Federal High Court, Abuja. 

Mr. Oyewumi, as reported by SaharaReporters last month, is seeking, among other reliefs, the disqualification of Mr. the Saraki from taking part in any capacity in Mr. Magu's  nomination hearing. Mr. Oyewunmi, whose suit was filed on his behalf  by Mr. Effiong, is challenging Mr. Saraki's eligibility on account  of his subsisting trial before  the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), given that Mr. Magu, the 15th defendant in the suit, coordinated and supervised the criminal investigation that led to the Senate President's  arraignment and ongoing prosecution.

The anti-corruption activist also wants the court to restrain Mr. Akpabio, Jonah Jang, Aliyu Magatakarda Wammako, Stella  Oduah, Theodore Orji, Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, Ahmed Rufai Sani, Danjuma Goje, Joshua Dariye and Adamu Abdullahi from participating in any capacity in Wednesday's nomination hearing of Mr. Magu.  Each of the 10 senators, Mr. Oyewunmi, told the court, are subjects of pending/ ongoing cases of financial and economic crimes, with investigations preceding the suits supervised and coordinated by Mr. Magu. Mr. Oyewunmi pointed out that this fact makes their participation in any way untenable.

In addition to Mr. Saraki and 10 colleagues, others joined as defendants in the suit are the Clerk of the National Assembly, Senate, Attorney General of the Federation and Mr. Magu.

The suit, explained Mr. Effiong, seeks in part, to enforce the provisions of Sections 56, 172 of and Paragraphs 1 and 9 of the Fifth Schedule of the Constitution and  Senate Standing Orders 2015,  which are explicit in their prohibition of conflict of interest by public officers, including senators.

On February 13, Justice  Binta Nyako granted leave to Mr. Oyewunmi upon a motion ex parte moved by Mr. Effiong to effect service of the processes in the suit on Mr. Saraki, 10 colleagues at the Nigerian Senate,  National Assembly Clerk and the Senate by delivering such to the Clerk of the Senate.

"The Certified True Copy of the Enrolled Order for substituted service dated February 23rd, 2017 together with the Originating Summons and other accompanying processes in the suit were duly and effectively served on the Clerk of the National Assembly by the Bailiff of the Court on Friday 24th February, 2017. A counsel in the Office of the Clerk of the National Assembly (Mrs. Adeagbo Esq.) personally called the plaintiff’s lawyer on Tuesday, March 7th, 2017 to acknowledge the receipt of the court processes," stated Mr. Effiong.

Given that Mr. Saraki, his 10 colleagues,  Clerk of the National Assembly and the Senate are aware of the suit,  pending against them and for which the court processes have been served on them, argued Mr. Effiong, they are legally ineligible to take part in Mr. Magu's  re-confirmation hearing.

"We admonish the Senate President and the 10 other named senators affected by the suit not to participate in the scheduled screening exercise. Our admonition is premised on the tested and trite legal principle of Lis Pendens, which prohibits a litigant or party to a suit from taking any step or action which is capable of altering, affecting, destroying or prejudicing the subject matter before the court," said the lawyer.

He cited numerous judicial precedents in support of his position. One of such was  Ngbongha & Ors v. Ebak & Ors (2016) LPELR-41228(CA) in which the Court of Appeal held thus: ‘’Therefore, parties to a proceeding pending in court ought not to do anything, which may have the effect of rendering nugatory the judgment of the court. A party may not alter to his advantage or disadvantage of his opponent issues in contest in a pending suit. By the principle of stare decisis, the decision of the Apex Court is binding on all other lower Courts." 

Mr. Effiong also noted that  Order 53 (5) of the Senate Standing Orders 2015 (As Amended) expressly forbids the Senate from discussing any matter which is the subject of pending litigation.

At the last adjourned date of the suit on  February 28, the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) was represented by three lawyers from the Federal Ministry of Justice. Mr. Effiong, therefore, called on the AGF to exercise his powers to halt the attempt by Mr. Saraki and colleagues to violate the law.

"Senator Bukola Saraki and his colleagues named above should uphold the Rule of Law and stay action on the screening and confirmation hearing of Magu or recuse themselves from same pending the hearing and determination of the suit, which will be coming up on 3 April for further mention. "Doing otherwise will not only be contemptuous of the court but will constitute an attack on the judicial process," concluded the lawyer.