Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Abuja division of the Federal High Court has granted the application by the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, to take over the prosecution of the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress, APC, in Imo State, Senator Hope Uzodinma, who is being accused of failing to declare his assets.
Justice Okon Abang had in his ruling granted the request of the AGF to take over the case-file from the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for Recovery of Public Property (SPIPRP).
Before today’s proceedings, the panel had applied for a bench warrant to be issued against Uzodinma, after he failed to appear before the court to enter his plea to a two-count charge preferred against him.
Justice Abang, however, refused and opted to give Uzodinma another opportunity to voluntarily submit himself for arraignment.
When proceedings resumed today, counsel to the panel, Mr. Celcius Ukpong announced his appearance for the prosecution.
However, another lawyer, Mr. P.U. Akuta stood up and told the court that he was sent by the AGF to take over the trial.
Ukpong, who was surprised by the development, urged the court to ignore the AGF’s request and proceed with taking the plea of the defendant who was already inside the dock.
He argued that the AGF could only take over prosecution of the case after the defendant had entered his plea to the charge against him.
However, in his ruling, trial Justice Abang held that contrary to the position of the panel, under Section 174 (1) of 1999 Constitution, as amended, the AGF, being the chief law officer of the federation has powers to take over the prosecution of any criminal case at any stage.
“His reason or intention cannot be questioned. It is a constitutional issue in which the court has no choice.
The court held that any other statute with a contrary provision is null and void since the constitution is supreme.
“The Special Investigation Panel shall submit to the authority of the AGF,” Justice Abang added.
Meantime, before the court adjourned the matter till June 3 for arraignment, Uzodinma’s counsel, Chief Olusola Oke, said his client had filed a preliminary objection to challenge both the competence of the charge and jurisdiction of the court to entertain same.
Chief Oke, who did not oppose the request for the AGF to be granted a short time to fully take over the case-file, however, urged the court to determine his client’s preliminary objection first before delving into the substantive matter.
Uzodinma had in his objection, relied on a Court of Appeal judgment that held that the presidential panel lacked the powers to initiate a criminal charge on behalf of the Federal government.
Besides, he contended that only the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), has the jurisdiction to entertain charges bordering on alleged none declaration of assets.