Justice Rilwan Aikawa of the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos, on Thursday dismissed an application filed by Akwa Ibom State Governor, Emmanuel Udom, seeking to quash the entire charge preferred against Paul Usoro, President, Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Mr Usoro was charged alongside Mr Udom and others in a case of money laundering to the tune of N1.4 billion, belonging to the Akwa Ibom State Government.
The NBA President was first arraigned before Justice Muslim Hassan of the same court on December 18, 2018.
He was later re-arraigned before Justice Aikawa on a 10- count charge.
One of the counts reads: “That you, Paul Usoro, SAN, Emmanuel Udom (currently constitutionally immune against criminal prosecution), Uwemedimo Thomas Nwoko (still at large), Nsikan Linus Nkan, Commissioner of Finance, Akwa Ibom State (still at large), Mfon Jacobson Udomah, Accountant-General, Akwa Ibom State (still at large) and Margaret Thompson Ukpe (still at large) sometime in 2015 in Nigerian, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable court, conspired amongst yourselves to commit an offence, to wit: conversion of the sum of N1. 410, 000, 000, 000.00 (One Billion, Four Hundred and Ten Million Naira), property of the Government of Akwa Ibom State of Nigeria, which sum you reasonably ought to have known forms part of the proceeds of an unlawful activity to wit: criminal breach of trust and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 as amended and punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act.”
At today’s sitting, Justice Aikawa, in his ruling, held that the application filed by Mr Udom lacked merit due to the fact that the charge before the court did not include the governor and his aides as defendants.
The judge held that “In a criminal suit, there are two segments: the complainant and the defendant(s).
“In this charge before me, the complainant is the EFCC and the defendant is Paul Usoro.
“Given the fact that the name of the applicant was mentioned in counts one to four does not make him a defendant in this case.
“It is also unconstitutional for the Federal Government to investigate and prosecute a serving governor. Gov. Udom cannot be charged in view of the immunity he enjoys, including his aides, and also due to the fact that the N1.4 billion were funds belonging to Akwa Ibom State and not Federal Government.”
The judge further held that the applicant could not apply to the court to quash the charge or seek fair hearing as prayed in the application because he is not a defendant in the case.
Justice Aikawa, therefore, ordered the prosecution to serve the defence team with the “proof of evidence”, prosecution witnesses’ statements and letters from both Access Bank and Diamond Bank.
The prosecution was also ordered to furnish the defence team with the documents within seven days.
Justice Aikawa adjourned the case to June 3, 2019, for the continuation of trial.