The Court of Appeal in Lagos has struck out a N47.1 billion theft charge against a former Managing Director of Intercontinental Bank Plc, Erastus Akingbola, saying the trial court had no jurisdiction over the matter.
But the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, which prosecuted the former bank chief, has a separate case against Mr. Akingbola in a Federal High Court, still bordering on corruption.
Mr. Akingbola was charged by the EFCC alongside Bayo Dada, General Manager of Probics Securities Ltd, before a Lagos High Court in Ikeja.
They were charged on 22- counts bordering on stealing and obtaining money by false pretences.
Mr. Akingbola was fired as the boss of the now defunct Intercontinental Bank in 2010, alongside the heads of several other banks, accused of stealing billions of naira of depositors money.
After years in court, the former bank chief had, through his lawyers, Wole Olanipekun, and Taiwo Osipitan, challenged the jurisdiction of the high court to entertain the charge preferred against them.
The trial court judge, Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo, had, however, in a ruling delivered on May 2, 2014, dismissed their applications and held that it was competent to entertain the charges preferred against the appellants.
The lower court had then assumed jurisdiction in the matter.
Dissatisfied with the ruling of the court, Mr. Akingbola and the other accused then filed two separate appeals, urging the Court of Appeal to set aside the decision of the lower court.
The appellate court, in a unanimous decision on Wednesday, allowed the appeal on the grounds that the subject of the alleged offences related to banking operations and capital issues, fell under the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court.
Delivering the lead judgment, Justice Amina Augie, held that the lower court judge took a narrow view of the issue, when it assumed jurisdiction on the case.
Ms. Augie held that the lower court judge erred when he failed to take notice of the decision of the appellate court in the case of Okey Nwosu vs EFCC, even when it was brought to his notice.
The judge noted that the appellate court had in Okey Nwosu’s case held that the Ikeja High Court, Lagos, where the charges were instituted against the defendants, had no jurisdiction over capital market-related issues.
Ms. Augie held that the refusal of the lower court to abide by the principle of Stare decisis, was tantamount to “judicial rascality”, adding that it would encourage the lower court to take up arms against the appellate court.
The court held that the subject matter of the alleged offences related to banking operations and capital market issues, which was outside the jurisdiction of the Lagos High Court.
It, therefore, held that the lower court failed in its duty as an unbiased umpire when it refused to study thoroughly the processes presented before it.
The ruling was also adopted by Justice Samuel Oseji and Justice Abimbola Obaseki-Adejumo.
The News Agency of Nigeria recalled that Mr. Olanipekun had earlier in his submission, urged the court to allow the appeal and set aside the decision of the lower court.
He had argued that the trial judge erred in law when he assumed jurisdiction over the charge before him, in the face of clear provisions of Section 251 of the Constitution and Section 8(1) of the Federal High Court Act. (NAN)