Buhari has not sacked me, Ofili-Ajumogobia insists
A dismissed Federal High Court judge, Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, Thursday claimed that President Muhammadu Buhari has not officially approved her sacking by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arraigned her and Godwin Obla (SAN) at the Federal High Court in Lagos for alleged money laundering.
Ofili-Ajumogobia, through her lawyer Chief Robert Clarke (SAN), filed a preliminary objection challenging the court’s jurisdiction.
Obla, through his counsel Ferdinand Orbih (SAN), filed a motion on notice contending that the charge was an abuse of court process.
He is also praying the court for an order that he should be tried separately.
The applications were billed for hearing Thursday, but Clarke said he needed time to respond to EFCC’s counter-affidavit to the preliminary objection.
EFCC’s counsel Rotimi Oyedepo opposed Clarke’s application for an adjournment, arguing that it was baseless.
Ofili-Ajumogobia is challenging the court’s jurisdiction to entertain the charge because she had not being dismissed as a judge of the Federal High Court since there was no gazette to that effect.
She said EFCC’s failure to produce such a gazette formalising her dismissal robbed the court of the requisite jurisdiction to entertain the case.
Ofili-Ajumogobia argued that the President’s approval was a condition precedent that must be complied with before she could be tried.
Clarke contended that the court ought to determine whether Ofili-Ajumogobia was a judicial officer as at the time the charge was filed.
But, Oyedepo attached a letter by the Presidency to the counter-affidavit to the effect that President Muhammadu Buhari has approved the judge’s dismissal.
“We have provided evidence that she has been dismissed,” the EFCC lawyer said.
Clarke, however, insisted that the letter could not substitute for an official gazette.
“There was no official communication with respect to the removal of the judge. In the absence of such, she remains a judge.
“They are saying that a letter from the Presidency serves the purpose of the gazette.
“We want to provide cases to help the court decide whether a mere letter can satisfy the legal requirement that the appointment or removal of a judge must be gazetted,” the SAN said.
Besides, Clarke argued that EFCC’s contention in a paragraph of its counter-affidavit that the defendant had not been tried was wrong.
He argued that the defendant was prosecuted for about two and half years before an Ikeja division of the Lagos High Court, with 18 witnesses called, before the suit was struck out.
Obla’s counsel Ferdinand Orbih (SAN) urged the court to hear his client’s application before proceeding with the trial.
He argued that his application was not challenging the validity of the charge, and therefore did not fall within the contemplation of Section 396 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA).
The section provides that a ruling on an application challenging the validity of a charge shall be at the end of trial.
“The application is not a challenge to the validity of the charge, but a challenge to the use the charge is being put, hence our contention that it is an abuse.
“The second defendant (Obla) has put in materials to show that the matter is on appeal. It is an issue that should be determined first.
“This application is peculiar. We’re saying that the use of the process of court is abusive and oppressive having regard to the appeal.
“The second defendant is also asking for a separate trial, which cannot be determined at the end of trial.
“We urge the court to grant the adjournment so that issues can be properly joined,” he said.
But, Oyedepo said adjourning the case would “constitute a violent contravention of Section 396 of the ACJA and will exhume the mischief that the ACJA has sought to cure.”
Ruling, Justice Aikawa held that he would hear the applications and deliver rulings on them before proceeding with trial.
“I hereby order that the preliminary objection of the first defendant and the motion on notice of the second defendant shall be taken on 31stof May.
“The court shall endeavour to give ruling on both applications with minimum delay,” he ruled.
EFCC alleged that Ofili-Ajumogobia and Obla conspired on May 21, 2014, to indirectly conceal and retain N5million in the Diamond Bank account of Nigel & Colive Ltd.
Ofili-Ajumogobia was also accused of indirectly concealing N12million in the same account despite knowing that it is a proceed of “unlawful enrichment”, contrary to Section (2) (d) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2011.
The commission said she indirectly retained $150,000 in her account on May 30, 2013, knowing that it was a proceed of “unlawful enrichment”.
Other sums she allegedly retained are $20,000, $30,000, $50,000, $150,000, $70,000, $55,000, $50,000, $50,000 and $30,000.
EFCC alleged that Ofili-Ajumogobia, on or about June 5, 2012, indirectly retained N18million from Arkleen Oil and Gas Ltd in her account domiciled in Access Bank Plc.
The commission said she also reasonably ought to have known that the money “forms part of proceeds of unlawful act to wit: unlawful enrichment…”
In the last count, Ofili-Ajumogobia allegedly made a false statement to an officer that N33million was paid into her account for the purchase of a landed property on Rita Ajumogobia Street, Asaba, Delta State capital.
The alleged offence of lying to an officer contravenes Section 39 (2) of the EFCC Act.
The defendants pleaded not guilty to the 18-count charge.