Lawyers argue over where and when to serve a process
It was a stormy session at court three of the Oyo State High Court on Friday as lead counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Gbolahan Latona, thwarted a fresh attempt to stall the trial of suspects in a N5.6 billion pension scam in the state.
Although trial could not begin as scheduled, the lawyer refused to accept an Appeal Court process that would have triggered an argument on whether the court could start the prosecution or not.
Richard Ogunwole, the lead counsel to Kudirat Adeleke, a former Head of Service and one of the accused persons, had served the court with an application for stay of prosecution filed at the Appeal Court. He could not serve the application on the EFCC as Mr. Latona insisted that it should be served at the address on the document.
Mr. Ogunwole had to formally raise the matter before the presiding judge, Mistura Bolaji-Yusuf. He asked the court to prevail on the EFCC lawyer to accept the document on behalf of the commission.
“I want to report this matter to your Lordship and I like you to tell Mr. Latona that he has to stop it. That is not the practice. We wanted to serve him a process this morning, but he refused to accept it. I personally went to him to appeal to him, he also refused. I have paid for the service and the bailiff was here to serve, but he rejected the papers. I like to address the court on the ground that I have served the court,” Mr. Ogunwole said.
Mr. Ogunwole, who sought for a place within the jurisdiction of the court through which they would serve the EFCC their processes, said taking every document to the Commission’s Lagos office cost his chambers a fortune.
But, Mr. Latona, while responding, raised worries over what he described as ‘practice of ambush in legal profession’.
“There is procedure and that was what I told the learned silk. This matter is not between Mr. Latona and the accused persons. It is the Federal Republic of Nigeria versus the defendants. We have been extending hands of friendship that is why we have been accepting the ones served us here. I am there today; another person will be there tomorrow. I believe we should follow the laid down procedure,” Mr. Latona said.
Also addressing the court on the extra cost incurred in serving the commission outside Ibadan, the EFCC lawyer said this was not restricted to the defendants’ lawyers.
“We also come from Abuja or Lagos for this case. Every time we want to do anything here in respect of this matter we have to come to Ibadan. Though it’s government, some people are there to manage,” he noted.
At a point, the judge had to stop the argument as it was quickly degenerating. Urging for cooperation among both sides, she said the court could not force a mode of service on any party.
“I believe this court is well known to you all. As counsels and minister in the temple of justice, you have to find means of filing processes. None of us has any personal interest in this matter, that is why I think you should cooperate with yourselves to reach a compromise,” Ms. Bolaji-Yusuf said.
After refusing the attempt by the accused persons’ lawyers to make the court decline jurisdiction, the judge had, on January 10, fixed hearing for February 14.
Mrs. Adeleke and 11 others were arraigned by the EFCC on November 7, 2013 on a 213-count charge bordering on conspiracy, obtaining money through false pretense, and forgery.
The other accused persons are Muili Aderemi, Iyabo Giwa, Adesina Ayoade, Oguntayo Banji, Adebiyi Olasunmbo, Muili Adedamola, Adeduntan Johnson, Johnson Bosede, Kareem Rasheed, Olujimi Adebayo and Adewale Kehinde.
The case was adjourned to March 21.