The courts made several important interventions in the 2016-17 legal year, which began last September and ended in July. As the long vacation gives way to the 2017-2018 legal year, which begins next week, Robert Egbe reviews some of the most significant decisions in the last legal year.
When the courts began the long vacation last July, they left a trail of judgments that will reshape the practice of law, politics, business and government administration for long.
Notable among the many cases are the Supreme Court’s ruling confirming the extinction of the grant of stay of proceedings in criminal trials.
Another is the Court of Appeal’s ruling upholding the right of states over inland waterways rather than the Federal Government.
The Federal High Court and the Lagos State High Court also had their share of economically and socially- significant decisions in the forfeiture cases, particularly that involving former Minister of Petroleum Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, and the case outlawing Unified Marriage Licences by Local Governments across the country.
Olisa Metuh v Federal Republic of Nigeria
Outcome: Outlaw of stay of proceedings in criminal trials
One of the innovations of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 is the abolition of stay of proceedings and interlocutory appeals by merging all preliminary objections in criminal cases.
The law was occasioned by, among others, the unending delay in the trial of politically-exposed persons in corruption cases.
For instance, in October 2005, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) filed a N664 billion corruption charge against Mohammed Abacha, son of the late dictator Sani Abacha.
The case stalled for nearly 10 years because of preliminary objections raised and argued from the High Court to the Supreme Court by Abacha through his counsel, J. B. Dauda.
On January 14, 2014 the Supreme Court ordered that the trial be commenced de novo at the Federal Capital Territory High Court.
In frustration, the Federal Government discontinued the charge.
In another instance, the prosecution of Major Hamza Al Mustapha over the murder of Mrs. Kudirat Abiola lasted 13 years on account of several preliminary objections and interlocutory appeals which were pursued from the High Court to the Supreme Court.
However, in a landmark judgment last June 12, a five-man panel of the Supreme Court put the nail in the coffin of the practice using court orders to suspend criminal trials.
It upheld Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) and Section 40 of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) (EFCC) Act, which prohibit courts from granting stay of proceedings in criminal trials.
Opponents of the sections had argued that prohibiting courts from staying proceedings in criminal trials was a violation of the constitutionally- guaranteed right to appeal.
But the apex court ruled that the provisions of both laws were in conformity with Section 36(4) of the 1999 Constitution, which provides that any person charged with a criminal offence “shall be … entitled to fair hearing in public within a reasonable time.”
In a unanimous judgment, it held that by virtue of both sections, neither it nor any other court has the power to stay proceedings in a criminal case.
The panel, which comprised Justices Dattijo Muhammed (presiding), Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Ejembi Eko and Sidi Bage gave the ruling while dismissing an appeal on an application for stay of proceedings filed by a former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Olisa Metuh.
The Federal High Court in Abuja had earlier rejected his application to stop his trial pending appeal, following which Metuh appealed unsuccessfully to both the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
Metuh and his company, Destra Investments Limited, are on trial before Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, for laundering the sums of $2 million and N400 million, which the defendants allegedly received unjustifiably from the Office of the National Security Adviser in 2014.
The funds were allegedly used to fund the 2015 presidential campaign of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Although Metuh pleaded not guilty to the charges, the court dismissed his application for stay of proceedings for being “violently in conflict” with Section 36(4) of the constitution, Section 306 of ACJ, and Section 40 of the EFCC Act.
Metuh then approached the courts to grant a stay of proceeding after he had filed a no-case submission in his criminal trial, which was dismissed by the Federal High Court.
Metuh’s trial before the Federal High Court resumed on June 19.
Lagos State Waterways Authority & Ors v Incorporated Trustees of Association of Tourist Boat Operators &Ors
Outcome: States have power to regulate inland waterways
Who has the right to make laws/regulate intra state waterways/inland waterways,the National Assembly or the State House of Assembly?
Last July 18,the Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos upheld the argument of Lagos State Attorney-General Adeniji Kazeem that by virtue of sections 4(2), 4(4)(a), Sections 315 and Items 36 and 64 of the Exclusive List of the Constitution, that power belongs to the states.
The case, which is now before the Supreme Court, was instituted on May 22, 2012 at the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court by the Lagos State Waterways Authority and three others.
The defendants/respondents were The Incorporated Trustees of Association of Tourist Boat Operators & Water Transportation in Nigeria, Incorporated Trustees Dredgers Association of Nigeria Transport, National Inland Waterways Corporation, Nigeria Maritime Standard And Safety Agency, Minister of Mines & Steel Development and Minister of Transport.
The Appellate Court, in a unanimous decision held that the Lagos State House of Assembly is competent to make laws in respect of the intra-Inland Waterways in Lagos State except inter-state waterways declared as international or interstate waterway under Item 5 in the 2nd Schedule to the National Inland Waterways Act.
In the leading judgment of the court, Justice Hussein Mukhtar held: “Item 64 is couched in no narrower scope as it deals with water from such sources declared by the National Assembly to be sources affecting more than one State.
“The inland waterways within Lagos State are not and cannot by any stretch of interpretation be covered by any item on the Exclusive Legislative List under Part 1 to the Second Schedule of the Constitution and I so hold.
The court also held that”the authority of the Lagos State House of Assembly to legislate in respect of all intra-state inland water ways is not in doubt” and all other inland waterways within Lagos State are within the legislative competence of the Lagos State House of Assembly and any revenue accruable therefrom is payable to the Lagos State Waterways Authority.
The Diezani forfeiture cases
Outcome: Federal Government recovers billions of nairasuspected to be stolen
Continuing a trend which began in 2015, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) recovered billions in cash and property for the Federal Government in the 2016-2017 legal year mostly through the whistle-blowing policy introduced last December.
The funds, suspected to be proceeds of crime, were permanently forfeited by Federal High Courts across the country after their seizures from mostly politically exposed persons.
They include the N1.8billion recovered last April 6 from a former Chief of Naval Staff, Dele Ezeoba, the N449,750,000 found in an abandoned Bureau de Change shop in Victoria Island, Lagos and the $43,449,947 (about N13billion), N23, 218,000 million and £27,800 (about N10.6 million) cash found in Flat 7B, Osborne Towers, 16, Osborne Road, Ikoyi, Lagos.
But the recoveries made in connection with former Petroleum Minister Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke stand out.
Last February 16,five months into the 2016-2017 legal year, the Federal High Court in Lagos ordered the final forfeiture of $153 million allegedly belonging to Mrs Allison-Madueke, to the Federal Government.
Justice Muslim Hassan also ordered the forfeiture of an unclaimed N23.4 billion, $5 million as well as $40 million (the naira equivalent is N9.08 billion) which the EFCC said was laundered for her and was unclaimed.
On August 7, 2017 Justice Chuka Obiozor of the same court ordered the permanent forfeiture to the Federal Government of a $37.5million Banana Island property allegedly bought in 2013 by Mrs. Alison-Madueke.
The judge also ordered that $2,740,197.96 and N84,537,840.70 realised as rent on the property be permanently forfeited to the government.
Last August 22, the Federal High Court in Lagos ordered the interim forfeiture of 58 houses allegedly bought between 2011 and 2013 for $21,982,224 million (N3.320 billion) by Diezani.
Justice Abdulaziz Anka adjourned till September 8 for anyone to show cause why the properties should not be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.
Also last August the Federal High Court in Lagos ordered the final forfeiture of N7.6billion allegedly stolen and hidden by the former Minister.
Mrs Alison-Madueke, who was a powerful member of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s Cabinet from 2010 to May 2015, has consistently denied the allegations.
Olamide Babalola v Ikeja Local Government & Registered Trustees of Association of Local Governments of Nigeria
Outcome: Local Government Marriage Certificates must conform with Form E of the Federal Marriage Registry
Last year, Consumer Rights Lawyer Olumide Babalola filed a class action suit against Ikeja Local Government and Association of Local Governments of Nigeria (ALGON) at the Lagos State High Court, Igbosere.
He sought, among others, a declaration that Ikeja Local Government could not issue modified marriage certificates different from that provided under Section 24 of the Marriage Act, LFN 1990.
Before Babalola’s suit, local governments across the country issued customised marriage certificates known as “Local government Unified Marriage Certificate.”
Babalola successfully argued that such certificates were illegal.
Delivering judgment last May 15, Justice Ibironke Harrison of the Igbosere division, ordered as follows:
A declaration that Ikeja Lo-cal Government) does not have powers to issue modified and/or customized marriage certificates different from that provided in Form E under section 24 of the Marriage Act, LFN 1990.
A declaration that the ALGON’s “Local Government Unified Marriage Certificate” is unknown to our law, unconstitutional, null and void.
A perpetual injunction restraining the defendants, their agents, officers, employees and representatives from further issuing modified and/or altar marriage certificate apart from the form as provided under Form E (1st schedule) and Section 24 of the Marriage Act, LFN 1990.
A perpetual injunction restraining ALGON from further issuing “Local Government Unified Marriage Certificates.
An Order that all modified marriage certificates issued by the defendants be surrendered to the appropriate local government where the marriage was conducted and an appropriate certificate in line with Form E should be re-issued.”
The judge added: “By this judgment, intending couples are to ensure that the type of certificates issued to them by local government marriage registries conform with the one issued by the Federal Marriage Registry in Form E while already-married couples are to return their irregular and illegal marriage certificates to the local governments in exchange for the proper ones.”
Following the judgment, the Federal Government wrote to embassies in the country not to issue visas or recognise marriages conducted by local governments based on such marriage certificates.
In compliance with the judgment, local governments in Lagos State on July 13, began issuing Form ‘E’ Marriage Certificates.
Source: The Nation
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