Alleged N2.6bn Fraud: Appeal Court Acquits Ex-NIMASA DG, Akpobolokemi

The Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, has discharged and acquitted a former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Patrick Akpobolokemi, who was charged with an alleged fraud of N2.6bn.

In a lead judgment on Friday by Justice Yargatta Nimpar, a three-man appellate court panel upheld the no-case submission filed by Akpolokemi in response to the criminal charges.

The Appeal Court overruled the decision of Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court in Lagos, who, on October 16, 2017, dismissed Akpobolokemi’s no-case submission.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had, on December 4, 2015, arraigned Akpobolokemi alongside five others for allegedly diverting N2.6bn from the coffers of NIMASA between December 2013 and May 2015.

The funds, the anti-graft agency claimed, were approved by ex-President Goodluck Jonathan for the implementation of a security project tagged, “International Ship and Ports Security Code in Nigerian Ports.”

Those charged alongside Akpobolokemi were Ezekiel Agaba, Ekene Nwakuche, Governor Juan, Blockz and Stonz Limited and Al-Kenzo Logistics Limited.

The six defendants had all pleaded not guilty to the 22 charges pressed against them, following which the EFCC opened its case, calling 12 witnesses and tendering 77 exhibits in a bid to prove the allegation.

Upon the closure of the EFCC’s case in 2017, all the defendants had filed no-case submissions, contending that the prosecution failed to establish a prima facie case against them.

But Justice Buba, in an October 16, 2017 ruling, dismissed their no-case submissions, holding that they had a case to answer.

Justice Buba had held that, “From the evidence of the first prosecution witness, it is well established that all the defendants have case to answer; the exhibits tendered and the testimonies of other witnesses have established that there is a prima facie case against the defendants.”

Displeased, however, they all went on appeal and in a judgment on Friday, June 1, 2018, the Court of Appeal discharged and acquitted Akpobolokemi of the entire 22 counts.

However, the five other defendants were not discharged, as the appellate court upheld Justice Buba’s verdict that they had a case to answer.‎

FOI Act Binds All States In Nigeria – Appeal Court

The Court of Appeal has ruled that Nigerian states have no powers to reject requests filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FoI).

In a March 27 decision at the Akure Division, the Court of Appeal ruled that the requests for information, especially around public expenditure, under the FoI, are made in public interest and should be honoured by all states.

The decision came in an appeal filed by Martins Alo, a journalist, against the Speaker of Ondo State House of Assembly and Auditor-General of Ondo State.

Mr Alo had demanded the audited report of Ondo State Government between 2012 and 2014 to properly access how public funds are utilised in the state. But the request was rejected, prompting him to seek judicial redress.

The Akure Division of Ondo State High Court had previously ruled in 2016 that Mr Alo had no right to demand how the state was spending money, saying the FoI was not applicable to states and the request was not in public interest to begin with.

The judge, Williams Akintoroye, also said Mr Alo should pay a damage of N10,000 for wasting time and resources of the state.

But Mr Alo’s lawyer, Femi Emodamori, appealed the ruling on behalf of his client, arguing that Mr Akintoroye erred in his judgment and that his client was acting in public interest.

A three-member panel at the Court of Appeal rejected Mr Akintoroye’s ruling and agreed with the appellant that the FoI was applicable to states and it was in public interest for the state government to release its audited report.

The Court of Appeal judges who sat on the matter included Uzo Ndukwe-Anyanwu, Obande Ogbuinya and Ridwan Abdullahi.

Mr Ndukwe-Anyanwu wrote the lead opinion, saying Mr Alo has a right to act on behalf of the public to obtain the information from state authorities. He also quashed the N10,000 fine imposed by the lower court.

“In a democratic dispensation, such as the Nigeria’s, the citizens have been proclaimed the owners of sovereignty and mandates that place leaders in the saddle,” Mr Ogbuinya said in his concurring opinion.

The citizens have a right to know details of “expenditure of public funds generated from their taxes,” Mr Ogbuinya added.

Several states, including Lagos, Adamawa, Akwa-Ibom and Ondo, have been rejecting FoI requests relating to their activities since the law was signed in 2011 by former President Goodluck Jonathan.

The states argued that the FoI is a federal law and its provisions are simply not binding on their respective jurisdictions, frustrating accountability efforts by media outlets and transparency advocates.

Appeal Court Declares Kogi East Senate Seat Vacant

The Court of Appeal in Abuja on Monday declared the seat for the Kogi East senatorial district vacant.

The judgement was delivered by Justice Abdul Aboki on a pre-election matter instituted before the appellate court.

Two persons, Attai Aidoko and Isaac Alfa, have been in court claiming to be the legal occupants of the seat.

The Independent National Electoral Commission had on July 24, 2016 declared a former Chief of Air Staff and a member of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), retired Air Vice-Marshal Isaac Alfa, as winner of the re-run election held at the senatorial district.

According to INEC, Mr. Alfa scored 57, 575 votes to defeat five other candidates.

The All Progressives Congress (APC) did not participate in that election due to an Appeal Court judgment which prohibited it from fielding a candidate.

But even after that rerun election, Mr. Aidoko continued a legal battle with Mr. Alfa, claiming to be the authentic candidate of the PDP for that election.

Appeal Court Insists Saraki Must Face CCT Trial

The Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja had on Wednesday ruled that the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki must face trial at the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT.

The court also dismissed 15 out of the 18 counts of false assets declaration instituted against the Senate President, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal.

The Justice Tinuade Akomolafe-Wilson-led three man panel unanimously ordered the Senate President to return to the CCT to face trial on three of the counts.

The Appeal Court had earlier reserved its judgement on the appeal filed by the Federal Government challenging the acquittal of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, by the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT.

Saraki is facing trial on an 18-count charge of false asset declaration and other related offences levelled against him by the Federal government.

PDP Convention: Appeal Court Clears Olafeso-led Delegates in S’West

Reprieve came the way of the Ekiti State Governor Ayodele Fayose and his group loyal to Senator Ahmed Makarfi-led faction of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the South-west, as the party cleared the delegates elected by Eddy Olafeso-led leadership to attend the party’s December 9 National Convention.

Earlier, the Supreme Court, in a landmark judgment delivered by the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen, ruled that Makarfi remains the authentic caretaker chairman, while he outlawed the Senator Ali Modu Sheriff-led executive and branded them as impostors.

But the matter became contentious again when the National Vice-Chairman, South-west of the Sheriff faction, Mr. Makanjuola Ogundipe, had approached the Federal High Court in Ado Ekiti, where he got a favourable judgment that it remains the recognised executive in the zone.

Makanjuola had in a suit number FAC/AD,CS/18/2017, said the Supreme Court judgment didn’t invalidate his executive, saying the verdict only affected the national body led by Sheriff.

Makanjuola, had in the suit filed before Justice Taiwo Taiwo, prayed for an interlocutory order to commit the Olafeso-led executive to jail for allegedly parading themselves as authentic zonal leadership and also sought for an interim order stopping the group from participating in the December 9 convention.

To counter Makanjuola’s group, the Olafeso group approached the court to plead for a stay of proceedings at the lower court because of the urgency demanded by the convention coming up on Saturday.

Delivering a ruling on the application for stay of execution of the proceedings at the lower court, Justice Ahmad Belgore of the Court of Appeal, Ado-Ekiti, granted all the prayers of the Olafeso-led South-west PDP.

Appeal Court To Rule On Makarfi Faction’s Applications Tuesday

An Abuja Division of the Appeal Court will on Tuesday rule on an application challenging the June 29 court judgement that recognised the Modu Sheriff-led faction as the genuine leader of the Peoples Democratic Party.

A panel of three judges led by Jummai Sankey, on Saturday, reserved the judgment after listening to applications by parties on the matter.

The court will also decide on an application by the Ahmed Makarfi-led faction of the party challenging a recent court ruling which directed the Independent National Electoral Commission to recognise Jimoh Ibrahim as the party’s flagbearer in the November 26 governorship election in Ondo State.

Justice Okon Abang had on June 29 declared the emergence of Mr. Makarfi as the PDP chairman as a product of impunity and ordered INEC to deal only with the faction led by Mr. Sheriff in all elections involving the PDP.

In furtherance of the judgement, Mr. Abang declared the emergence of Eyotayo Jegede, from the faction led by Mr. Makarfi as the governorship candidate of the PDP in the November election of Ondo state, invalid.

He gave an order that INEC should recognise Mr. Ibrahim as the party’s flagbearer because he emerged winner in the primaries conducted by the faction led by Mr. Sheriff.

Although a High Court in Ondo State had given a counter-directive, INEC complied with the order by Mr. Abang.

Hijab: Lagos Appeal Court Ruling Will Aid Rule Of Law, Diversity – Osun CSO

The Justice Now Foundation, JNF, a civil society organization based in Osogbo, Osun State has commended the ruling of the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, which upheld the right of Muslim students in public primary and secondary schools in Lagos State to wear hijab (Muslim scarf) on their school uniform.

In setting aside previous judgment of a Lagos State high court, a five-justice panel of the Court of Appeal headed by Justice A.B. Gumel held that, “the use of hijab is an Islamic injunction and also an act of worship hence it will constitute a violation of the appellants’ rights to stop them from wearing hijab in public schools.”

JNF in a statement signed by its chairman Mr. Kunle Afolayanka stated that its sees this judgment as a leap forward in our bid to nurture our diversity as a nation. The Court of Appeal in Lagos has once again established a critical principle that the rule of law is supreme, the JNF stated.

“We appreciate the doggedness of the Muslims Students Society of Nigeria, MSSN, Lagos Area who unlike their Osun chapter, Christian Association of Nigerian, did not take the laws into their hands when an unfavourable judgment was delivered by Justice Modupe Onyeabor of the Lagos High Court in October, 2014.”

“The Muslims have through their actions shown the CAN group in Osun what it means to be a good example in thought and in deed.”
The court of Appeal in its judgment followed the path of the Osun State judge when it held that the use of hijab by pupils in public schools was part of female Muslim students’ fundamental human right.

“Of interest to us is that only two of the five Justices who presided over the case were Muslims, hence many can’t accuse the judges of bias unlike the case of Osun, where the judge who delivered a favourable judgment to the Muslims is a Muslim.”

“What’s more? The decision of the court of Appeal has discounted the malicious accusations on the Osun Governor , Ogbeni Rauf Aregbesola who some misguided groups ignorantly accused of masterminding the hijab judgment in Osun.”

“They ignore that the hijab controversy has never been about the ‘people’s leader’, but about two opposing religion who felt each other’s right was being trampled upon.”

“For us at JNF, We have always maintained that the use of hijab was a constitutional matter that only the courts can resolve. We take this opportunity to once again appeal to interested parties in Osun to allow the rule of law take its course like it did in Lagos rather resort to self-help.”

Appeal Court To Hear Saraki’s Fresh Appeal, May 31st

The Court of Appeal, Abuja, has fixed May 31 for the hearing of a fresh appeal by Senate President, Bukola Saraki, challenging the jurisdiction of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) to try him on charges of false asset declaration.

A five-man panel of the court, led by Justice Abdul Aboki, chose the date Monday to accommodate a request by Saraki’s lawyer, Kanu Agabi (SAN) for a 14-day adjournment to enable him study the response filed on behalf of the respondents, the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) and the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF).

When the case was called Monday, Agabi told the court that he was just served with the respondents’ cross appellant’s reply brief and would require time to look at it.

Respondents’ lawyer, Henry Ejiga, who apologised for the absence of his principal, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) did not object to Agabi’s application for a 14-day adjournment, following which the court adjourned to May 31 for the hearing of both the appeal and cross-appeal.

Saraki is, in his appeal, challenging the jurisdiction of the CCT to try him based on a charge initiated by the office of the AGF. It is his contention that it is only the CCB that is empowered to prosecute cases before the CCT.

CCB and AGF crossed appeal and argued that the motion, on which the CCT ruled, which formed the basis of the appeal by Saraki was an abuse of court process.

They contend among others, that the issue of jurisdiction, having been resolved by the Supreme Court in an earlier appeal by Saraki, ought not to be raised again.

It argued that the apex court, having held in a judgement of February 6, that the CCT was with the jurisdiction to try Saraki, the CCT ought not to entertain another motion filed by Kanu Agabi (SAN) for Saraki, challenging the tribunal’s jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, Saraki’s trial before the CCT resumes today with his team of lawyers expected to resume their cross-examination of the first prosecution witness, Michael Wetkas.

On May 11 when proceedings were last held, Wetkas said his investigation team relied on information provided by the Presidential Implementation Committee on the Alienation of Federal Government Properties in reaching the conclusion that Saraki made anticipated asset declaration.

Wetkas said the presidential committee informed his team that it did not have on its record, 15 A and B, Mcdonald Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, as declared by Saraki in his 2003 asset declaration form.

He said contrary to Saraki’s claim, the committee identified the property it sold as No.15, and Block 15, Flat 1 to 4, Mcdonald Road, Ikoyi, Lagos.

Wetkas noted that, Saraki, on assuming office as Kwara State governor in 2003, declared that he acquired 15A and B, Mcdonald Road, Ikoyi, Lagos in 2000, whereas, the presidential committee wrote to his investigative team that it sold 15, Mcdonald Road, Ikoyi, Lagos to Saraki through his company, Tiny Tee Limited, in 2006.

“The only authority that we could refer to was the presidential committee or the Lagos State Land Registry or the Presidential Implementation Committee. The other letters referred to by them (Saraki’s lawyers) were by private individuals.

“We relied on the document from the Presidential Implementation Committee which said they only had 15, Mcdonald Road and Block 15, Flat 1 to 4, Mcdonald Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, which was occupied by another lessee.

“We relied on the numbering of the properties by the presidential implementation committee and they stated that 15, Mcdonald Road, Ikoyi was sold to Tiny-Tee. That was the strength of our conclusion,” the witness said.

Wetkas said he did not physically inspect the property at 15, 15A and B, Mcdonald Road, Ikoyi, but ylthat other members of his investigative team did, and that they are in a better position to tell th tribunal what they found.

On why he did not personally visit Mcdonald Road, Ikoyi, Wetkas said he needed not to because the letter from the Presidential Implementation Committee to his team had clarified issues on the existence o otherwise o th property.

“There was no need for me to ask the implementation committee to take me to the properties. The letter clarified that there were only two properties as 15 and Block 15, Flats 1 to 4,” the witness said.

Wetkas confirmed that the asset at 15, Mcdonald Road, Ikoyi, was at various times offered to a company, Energy Marine Resources and occupant of the house, Mr. Virtus Nwosu.

The witness also confirmed that it was eventually sold to Saraki’s company.

Ibinabo Fiberesima Gets N2m Bail

The Court of Appeal in Lagos Thursday granted Nollywood actress, Ibinabo Fiberesima,‎a N2 million bail.

While granting the bail with two sureties in like sum, the appellate court ruled that Ms. Fiberesima bail application had merit.

The actress had been sentenced to five years in prison, in 2009, by a Lagos High Court.

On March 12, the Court of Appeal‎ dismissed an appeal by Ms. Fiberesima challenging her jail term, forcing the actress to file a bail application.

On Thursday, the appellate court, in a two-one split judgment, held that Ms. Fiberesima had not jumped bail in the past.

The court also stated that it exercised its discretion in the actress’s favour in view of her health condition.

“It would amount to injustice if after Fiberesima had been kept in prison, the Supreme Court later, after about three to four years, decide that the five year jail term imposed on her should be set aside,” said Samuel Oseji, who read out the judgment.

Sidi Bage, who presided over the three-man panel of judges, aligned himself with the lead judgment.

But Y.B Nimpar, the third judge, took a dissenting opinion on the judgment.

According to Mr. Nimpar, Ms. Fiberesima’s ill-health grounds for seeking bail could not be justified.

The judge said there was no record before the court of health complications developed by the actress since February this year when she underwent breast cancer surgery.

Also, the judge noted that the prison was adequately equipped to cater for the medical needs of the actress, and the hospital was capable of issuing referral to other facilities, if the need arises.

“The applicant is already convicted and presumption of innocence is no longer available,” the judge said.

“I personally will not exercise discretion in favour of the applicant.”

Ms Fiberesima was sentenced by Justice Deborah Oluwayemi of a Lagos High Court, for reckless driving and causing death.

She was alleged to have recklessly driven a car which resulted in an accident along the Lekki-Epe expressway, Lagos, causing the death of Giwa Suraj, a staff of a Lagos State government hospital.

Court Confirms 5-year Jail Term For Actress, Ibinabo Fiberesima

The Court of Appeal Lagos Division, Friday dismissed an appeal filed by ex beauty queen, Ibinabo Fiberesima challenging a Lagos High Court judgement which sentenced her to serve five years in prison for the death of one Dr. Giwa Suraj.

The embattled president of the Actors’ Guild of Nigeria (AGN) was sentenced by Justice Deborah Oluwayemi for reckless driving which caused the death of Suraj in an auto accident along the Lekki-Epe Expressway, Lagos.

He was a staff of a Lagos State hospital.

Dissatisfied, Fiberesima in her amended appellant brief filed by her lawyer, Nnaemeka Amaechina, urged the court to set aside the sentence and restore the decision of the Magistrate Court which sentenced her to a N100, 000 fine.

But, delivering judgment Friday, the appellate court dismissed the appeal and affirmed the High Court’s judgment.

In a unanimous decision delivered by Justice Jamilu Yammama Tukur the court held that the trial Magistrate Court lacked the discretion to grant Ibinabo an option of fine after her conviction.

It held further that the appeal lacked merit and thereby dismissed it accordingly.

Other members of the panel are Justice U.I. Ndukwe-Anyanwu (Mrs.) (presiding) and Justice Tijani Abubakar respectively.

Ibinabo, who was visibly apprehensive throughout the proceeding, burst into tears immediately the judgment was delivered.

The court had, at its last sitting, ordered her to appear before it on judgement day.

Speaking on the judgement, her lawyer, Nnaemeka Amaechina, said it would be challenged at the Supreme Court adding that a Notice of Appeal had been filed already.

The Commissioner of Police, Lagos State Command had in 2005 charged Fiberesima to an Igbosere Magistrates’ Court on a two-count charge of dangerous and reckless driving along the Lekki- Epe Expressway, Lagos which resulted in the death of Suraj.

She was awarded a N100, 000 fine by the Court, but this decision was tested at the High Court by the Lagos State Government.

At the High Court, Justice Oluwayemi set aside the option of N100, 000 fine imposed and sentenced Fiberesima to five years imprisonment for dangerous and reckless driving.

She held that the trial Magistrate exercised judicial recklessness when he gave the convict an option of N100, 000 fine and this did not serve the purpose of justice.

She subsequently ordered that the N100, 000 should be returned to Fiberesima.

The court added that Section 28 of the Road Traffic Law clearly provides that where a reckless and dangerous driving has caused the death of a person, the accused person shall be guilty of an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment of seven years.

Dissatisfied, Fiberesima in her amended appellant brief filed by her lawyer, Nnaemeka Amaechina before the Court of Appeal urged the court to set aside the five year sentence and restore the decision of the Magistrate Court.

Amaechina had argued that the Magistrate’s Court exercised its discretion properly and there was no ground to review it by the high court.

He submitted that by virtue of the Notice of Increased in Jurisdiction of Magistrates, No. 7 of 2006, the trial Magistrate could only impose a maximum of 7 years imprisonment or N100, 000.00 fine.

He added that N100, 000.00 fine is the maximum limit the trial Magistrate can impose as fine and that was what it imposed on the appellant.

In her response, counsel to Lagos State, Rotimi Odutola (Mrs.) argued that the law creating the offence of dangerous driving causing death has provided for a term of imprisonment as punishment for anyone convicted under section 28 hence the trial Magistrate ought not to exercise such arbitrary discretion to impose N100.000.00 as fine.

Odutola further submitted that the children of the deceased have been permanently deprived of the ‘’measureless contributions’’ of their father to their lives as a result of his death caused by the appellant.