Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The Imo State Government has assured the Federal High Court in Abuja that the state will not proceed further with the probe of the former governor of the state, Senator Rochas Okorocha, over alleged financial infractions.
The undertaking was given by the state Attorney-General, COC Akaolisa before Justice Ahmed Mohammed, during the hearing in the suit filed by the former governor against the multiple probe panels constituted against it by the Imo State government.
Counsel to the state Attorney-General and other defendants Mr JM Madu took the decision so as to prevent the court from granting an oral application by Okorocha’s counsel, Chief Oba Maduabuchi, SAN, for a restraining order against the ongoing investigation of his client.
Maduabuchi had made the request following the request by the defence counsel for the hearing of the case to be adjourned to a later date.
Justice Mohammed in his ruling held that, since counsel to the Attorney-General of the state and the probe panels had the undertaking to tell his clients not to proceed with further investigation, there would be no need granting a restraining order.
Maduabuchi had argued that since the defence counsel asked for an adjournment to respond to processes served on them, the court should make an order stopping the parties in the suit from going ahead with the probe pending the determination of the matter.
Though counsel to the 1st defendant (EFCC) was not in court, counsel to 2nd to 48th defendants JM Madu quickly interjected that the probe panel had not commenced sitting.
Madu further undertook to inform the Attorney-General of Imo about the court development and would urge them to respect the court not to begin sitting until the suit was determined.
Justice Mohammed then held that it would be of no use to grant a restraining order since Madu had undertaken to tell the parties not to go ahead with the probe pending when the matter would be determined.
The judge held that since the EFCC was not represented in court to hear its side of the story, it would be unfair to grant the request in the interest of justice.
In a suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/558/2020 filed on May 28, Okorocha, the senator representing Imo-West Senatorial District, specifically wants the EFCC to end or suspend its investigation including all the petitions submitted to it by the Imo Government until the panel on a contract set up by the same state government had concluded its probe on his government between 2011 and 2019.
Other defendants in the suit are the Attorney General of Imo; members of the Judicial Commission on Lands and Related Matters, members of the panel to investigate the activities of ISOPADEC; members of the panel to investigate the status of the newly established Tertiary institutions; members of the investigative committee for financial transactions in Imo State; Committee for the Review of appointments recruitments and related matters from 2015 till date and the Committee for the investigation of LGA, etc.
Maduabuchi told the court that even though the EFCC was duly served, it was not represented in court.
He said the matter was for the originating motion to be heard and that all the defendants had been served with all processes, including the original motion.
‘I am prepared to move the motion.
‘We have the motion (interlocutory injunction motion) dated May 28, restraining the respondents from probing or continue to probe the activities of Imo Government between 2011 and 2019,” he said.
On hid part, Madu, who represented 2nd to 48th defendants, said he was not ready, pointing out that his clients only briefed him on the matter the previous day.
‘Upon the review of the originating process and the plaintiff’s motion for injunction, we intend to file our responses to the said originating process and the motion.
‘In view of this my lord and in the interest of fair hearing, we will apply for a short date my lord to file our responses,’ he said.
Madu also hinted the court that he had another application pursuant to the directive of the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho, that all matters be transferred to where the cause of action aroused.
‘In the review of the originating motion of the plaintiff, we are humbly applying that this matter be transferred to Owerri Division of this court where the subject matter or cause of action aroused,’ he said.
Countering Madu’s position, Maduabuchi said the defendants cannot choose where the matter should be heard, saying ‘this is because the basic law as it relates to the venue is that a suit can be filed where any of the defendant is resident.
‘The EFCC’s head office is here in Abuja.’
He argued that the same chief judge, who made the circular which he had not sighted and who had the constitutional power of assigning cases, was the person that assigned the case to the court.
The lawyer stated that Justice Tsoho, who Madu said issued the circular, was aware of the circular before he assigned the matter.
‘I urge my lord to dismiss that application,’ he said.
Justice Mohammed, after taking their arguments, said Madu should file a formal application for the case transfer.
According to him, I cannot leave the 1st defendant in taking the decision; there should be fair hearing on this matter.
Okorocha’s lawyer told the court that it was unfortunate that despite serving the defendants with all the processes on July 11, Madu said he was only briefed on the matter the previous day (on Tuesday).
‘They ignored the court and the processes and continue taking proceedings in defiance of this motion,’ Maduabuchi said.
He remarked that in spite of the motion for an injunction, their sole aim was to foist on the court a situation of complete helplessness by rushing and completing their probe sitting and later told the court that the deed had already been done.
‘It is instructive to note that my friend said it was only yesterday they were briefed since June 11 they were served.
‘My lord, this court is a court of law and they must be given the opportunity to present their own case.
‘Once you proceed on vacation my lord and the court resumed in September, there will be nothing to adjudicate on because the panel would have rounded up.
‘I urge you to make an interim order that all the defendants should stop their ongoing activities pending when this motion is heard and disposed of,’ he said.
However, Madu explained that the panel was yet to sit.
Justice Mohammed then adjourned the matter until July 14 for hearing.