The office of the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, clashed with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Friday at an Ikeja High Court, Lagos, over the former’s insistence on withdrawing an ongoing fraud case.
D.E Kaswe, representing Mohammed Adoke, the Attorney General of the Federation, had applied for a “No case submission” in a pending N247 million suit against five ex-officials of the Lagos Trade Fair Complex.
The EFCC, in 2013, arraigned Bassey Eyamba, Francis Dajilak, Lazarus Okocha, Barnabas Kolo and Eunice Okafor before Justice Kudirat Jose on a 20 count charge of conspiracy and stealing.
According to the EFCC, the defendants had between January 2009 and December 2011 fraudulently obtained various sums of money belonging to their employer by renting and selling some plots of land owned by the Trade Fair Complex.
However, on Friday, Mr. Kaswe, citing Section 174 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, informed Justice Jose that the AGF’s Chambers had filed a notice of discontinuance before the court.
“In the exercise of his powers, the office of the Attorney General of the Federation has entered a nolle proseque in this matter,” Mr. Kaswe said.
“I therefore urge Your Lordship to deem the notice as proper and the court should discontinue the suit.”
The AGF’s notice left a bewildered Anslem Ozioko, the EFCC lawyer, scrambling to stamp the Commission’s authority as the prosecutor.
“Nothing was served on us at the commission,” he said. “I submit that the EFCC is still prosecuting this matter. The files are still with us and we are ready to proceed. We are aware that the AGF has power to enter a nolle proseque but is it limited to federal enactments. The matter before the court is stealing and it is only the Lagos State Attorney General that can enter a nolle proseque in this matter.
“Section 211 (a) of the 1999 Constitution is clear with respect to this matter. It is only the Lagos AG and not the AGF that can enter nolle proseque with respect to this suit. The EFCC has the fiat of Lagos State Attorney General to prosecute this matter and that fiat has not been withdrawn.”
The judge adjourned the matter till November 26th for ruling.
A strange move
Entering a nolle proseque in a matter that the party filing the application has not even seen the case file is “strange,” Victor Opara, a lawyer, told journalists after Friday’s proceedings.
“It is surprising that a nolle proseque could be entered in a matter EFCC is prosecuting without the Federal Government taking the commission into confidence,” said Mr. Opara, counsel to the civilian complainant.
“The EFCC denied knowledge of the application, and what that suggests to me is that there are no inter-prosecutorial meeting before the AGF decided to introduce that application.
“My submission with respect is that the power of AGF to discontinue is akin to public interest which must be exercised on grounds of overriding public interest. The current AGF is a man of impeccable character.”