An Abeokuta High Court on Tuesday dismissed an application filed by the former governor of Ogun State, Gbenga Daniel, seeking leave to reduce and quash some of the charges leveled against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC. The anti-graft agency had on April 2, 2012 instituted a 38-count charge against the former governor bordering on fraudulent conversion of land and diversion of public funds. Mr. Daniel, through his counsel, Taiwo Osipitan, had last October filed an application to strike out counts 1-13 of the 38 charges which relate to fraudulent conversion of various plots of land belonging to the state.
Defending the application at the last sitting on December 14, 2012, Mr. Osipitan argued that a Commission of Inquiry set up by the state government in September 2012 had already indicted him over the same issues. He also argued that the publication of a white paper by the Ogun Government, through which it accepted the recommendations of the commission, would affect a fair trial of Mr. Daniel’s case. The counsel further insisted that subjecting Mr. Daniel to another round of trial on the same charges would amount to double jeopardy.
Responding, the EFCC counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, argued that the 1999 Constitution (as amended) empowered the executive arm to establish a judicial commission of enquiry into any matter it deems. Mr. Jacobs also emphasised that a fact-finding report should not be a basis for stopping a criminal action, arguing that the state government could at the end of the findings and the white paper decide whether to prosecute or not. The prosecution counsel, while urging the court to discountenance the application asserted that an administrative panel’s report cannot be equivalent or elevated to that of any court of law as the findings were mere accusations and not a conviction. After the counsels’ arguments, Olanrewaju Mabekoje, the trial judge, adjourned proceedings for ruling on the application to Tuesday. At the resumed hearing, Mr. Mabekoje held that a Judicial Commission of Inquiry could not be elevated or equated to the status of a court of law. “An indictment by a Commission of Inquiry does not amount to conviction. “The accused person was not tried for criminal offences. Only a court of law can try an accused for criminal charges,’’ he held. Mr. Mabekoje also held that an indictment by a Commission of Inquiry was a mere accusation which had to be proven in a court of law. He stated that Mr. Daniel was liable to prosecution to determine his culpability or otherwise in respect of the charges. The judge, who struck out the application, however, gave the assurance that the decision of the Commission of Inquiry would not jeopardise Mr. Daniel’s right to fair hearing. The case, over which the judge had promised accelerated hearing, was consequently adjourned to February 22 and March 1 for continuation of trial.
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