The Federal High Court in Lagos Friday vacated a bench warrant issued for two Akwa Ibom State commissioners and other officials.
Justice Rilwan Aikawa had on March 1, 2019 ordered the arrest of Commissioner for Finance Nsikan Nkan and Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice Uwemedimo Nwoko.
He also ordered the arrest of Akwa Ibom Accountant-General, Mfon Udomah and an account officer Margaret Thompson Ukpe.
The bench warrant followed an application by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which said they were “at large”.
They were named in a charge against Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) president Mr. Paul Usoro (SAN), who was accused of laundering N1.4billion state funds.
But the officials, through their counsel Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), filed a March 4 application asking that the bench warrant be set aside.
He argued the court had no jurisdiction over his clients as no charge was yet to be filed against them by the EFCC as they were not named as defendants.
He noted that in February 2017, Akwa-Ibom government sued the EFCC at a Federal High Court in Uyo over the harassment of its officials by the anti-graft agency.
Ozekhome alleged that despite a subsisting order asking the anti-graft agency to cease all action pending the conclusion of the case, the officials are still being harassed by the EFCC.
“The Attorney-General of Akwa-Ibom was the one personally conducting the Uyo case. The court later asked parties to stay all action pending the conclusion of the case.
“Initially the order was obeyed by the EFCC, but it later summersaulted and commenced a new wave of harassment of the officials.
“The Attorney-General later went physically to the Abuja office of the EFCC to lodge complaints but when nothing changed, contempt proceedings were commenced against EFCC,” Ozekhome said.
The SAN faulted EFCC for asking for his clients’ arrest when there was no record that they ignored lawful summons.
While urging the court to vacate the bench warrant, Ozekhome undertook to ensure that the officials were available to answer to any charge that may be filed against them.
Prosecuting counsel Rotimi Oyedepo said in view of Ozekhome’s undertaking, he would not oppose the application.
Justice Aikawa consequently vacated the arrest warrant.
Arguments on another motion by Governor Emmanuel Udom challenging the court’s jurisdiction to entertain the case were taken.
Udom’s lawyer Dr. Charles Mekwunye said EFCC was wrong to name the governor in the charge since he still enjoys immunity as enshrined in Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution.
Opposing the motion, Oyedepo said the court’s power to hear and determine money laundering related offences against all persons is not in doubt.
He insisted that Governor Udom is not a party to the case.
Justice Aikawa adjourned until May 30 for ruling.
EFCC alleged that Usoro conspired with others to commit the offence within the court’s jurisdiction on May 14, 2016.
He was alleged to have conspired to convert N1.4 billion, property of Akwa Ibom State Government, which sum they reasonably ought to have known formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful activity.
The prosecution said the unlawful activity included criminal breach of trust, which contravened sections 15 (2), 15(3), and 18 (A) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011.
Usoro pleaded not guilty.