The EFCC said its laws allows it to prosecute without a fiat from the Lagos AG.
The Chairman, Bi-Courtney Ltd., Wale Babalakin, and his co-defendants, on Wednesday told an Ikeja High Court in Lagos that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had no `valid fiat’ to prosecute them.
The defendants made this known in separate applications filed by their counsel, seeking to quash the charges against them.
Mr. Babalakin is standing trial for allegedly transferring N4.7 billion on behalf of convicted former Delta State Governor, James Ibori. He is being prosecuted alongside Alex Okoh and their companies — Stabilini Visioni Ltd., Bi-Courtney Ltd. and Renix Nigeria Ltd.
The defendants are facing a 27- count charge bordering on conspiracy, retention of proceeds of a criminal conduct and corruptly conferring benefit on account of public action.
During Wednesday’s proceedings, Mr. Babalakin’s counsel, Lateef Fagbemi, told the court that the EFCC was prosecuting the defendants with a “dead fiat’’.
Mr. Fagbemi said that the EFCC had no power to institute criminal proceedings at a state high court, without a valid fiat duly issued to them by the state attorney-general. He said that the defendants were charged to court with a fiat issued on May 12, 2004, under the provisions of the Criminal Code Laws of Lagos State, 2003 and Criminal Procedure Laws of Lagos State, 2003.
“The fiat given in 2004 does not qualify as a fiat any longer, because both laws under which it was made have been repealed,” Mr. Fagbemi said.
He further drew the court’s attention to a ruling delivered on April 29 by Justice Samuel Candide-Johnson of a Lagos State High Court, Igbosere, in a case involving Federal Republic of Nigeria and Olayinka Sanni.
According to him, the judge in the ruling held that the said 2004 fiat was no longer valid as a result of the repealed laws; leading to the dismissal of the case.
“Nothing stops the EFCC from going back to the present AG of Lagos State to obtain a valid fiat before filing the charges against the defendants,” Mr. Fagbemi said.
Mr. Okoh’s counsel, Tayo Oyetibo, also urged the court to quash the charges against the defendants on similar grounds.
Mr. Oyetibo said:”Since the fiat has been nullified, the defendants have the right to insist that they cannot be prosecuted with it, I urge the court to quash the charges against them.”
In their arguments, Roland Otaru , counsel to Stabilini Visioni Ltd, and Joseph Nwobike, his counterpart for Bi-Courtney, both urged the court to quash the charges.
Mr. Nwobike said:”The proceeding was commenced in a manner that is inconsistent with the laws regulating the commencement of criminal proceedings in Lagos State.
“It is an abuse of court process because it did not comply with the provisions of Sections 70 and 77 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) of Lagos State, 2011.”
However, EFCC counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, urged the court to dismiss all the applications.
Mr. Jacobs said the exercise of prosecutorial powers was governed by Sections 174 and 211 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. He said the sections empowered the EFCC as a state agency to institute criminal proceedings against any defendant and before any court even without a fiat.
Mr. Jacobs furthered referred the court to a ruling delivered by Justice Lateefat Okunnu of an Ikeja High Court in a case between FRN and Okey Nwosu.
“The judge held that the EFCC did not need any fiat from the attorney-general to prosecute matters at the state high courts,” he added.
The trial judge, Adeniyi Onigbanjo, adjourned the matter till July 9 for ruling on the applications.