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Tuesday, 7 May 2019

Presidency vs Hope Uzodinma: Court takes decision on Senator’s asset declaration case

Presidency vs Hope Uzodinma: Court takes decision on Senator’s asset declaration case

The Federal High Court, Abuja, on Tuesday, ordered the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), to take over prosecution of Sen. Hope Uzodinma’s case from Special Presidential Investigation Panel for Recovery of Public Property (SPIP).

Uzodinma, a serving senator is being prosecuted by the panel on a two-count charge, one of which has to do with alleged refusal to declare his assets.

Justice Okon Abang, gave the order in a bench ruling after taking arguments from two prosecuting counsels in the matter.

When the matter was called, Mr Celsus Ukpong, announced appearance for prosecution following which Mr Ukeyima Aguta, also announced appearance saying he was sent from the office of AGF to take over prosecution of the matter.

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Aguta told the court that the Court of Appeal had ruled that the panel had no prosecutorial powers and that the law setting it up only allowed it to investigate.

“The AGF has directed me to take over the prosecution of this case as the panel which instituted it has no powers by the law that set it up to commence this prosecution.”

Aguta insisted that he was a senior counsel in the office of the AGF who was an authority unto himself and could not be challenged.

The lawyer said that as a senior counsel, he did not need a letter from the AGF to present to the court before taking over the prosecution of the matter.

In his submission, Ukpong said that he was not against the AGF taking over the matter, but that the defendant, who was in court, should be allowed to take his plea before he would hands off prosecution.

He also argued that the AGF should have written to inform the court that he was sending a counsel to take over the prosecution of the matter.

Justice Abang in a short ruling said that he was satisfied that Aguta was from the office of the AGF and therefore, there was no need for a letter from the AGF to the court.

“I am satisfied that P.U Aguta is from the office of the Attorney-General so the issue of the AGF nominating him or writing a letter introducing him is not relevant here.

“I do not think that a person who is not from the AGF can come to court and tell the court that he is from there and the court cannot question the authority of the AGF.”

The judge said there was no law to back the submission that the defendant had to first take his plea before the AGF could take over.

He further ordered that the AGF should take over prosecution of the matter.

“The Attorney-General of the Federation or any officer in his department, in this case, P.U Aguta by virtue of Section 174 shall take over proceedings in this matter.

“The special investigation panel shall submit to the authority of the attorney- general of the federation or any officer in his department for the prosecution of this matter.”

The judge adjourned the matter until June 3.

Counsel to Uzodinma, Mr Olushola Oke, (SAN), said that the charges against his client were not clear.

“The charge against my client is very unclear, we do not know exactly what the former prosecutor was all about.

“What we do know is that a special presidential panel that brought this charge has no power under the law to charge anybody to court.

“The Court of Appeal has interpreted this section in another case saying, their power is only to investigate and when they find anything that should be prosecuted, they hand it over to the Attorney-General for consideration.”

Oke also said that he had application before the court challenging the competence of the charge as well as the jurisdiction of the court to handle the matter.

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