FRN vs. Usoro: Gov. Udom Emmanuel Appeals Court’s Refusal to Quash Charges as Trial Commences

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Justice Aikwa of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos today refused to adjourn sine die the criminal charges filed by the Federal Republic of Nigeria against Mr. Paul Usoro SAN.

The Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel had through his counsel Mr. Ogonna Nwankwo urged the court to adjourn trial to enable the Court of Appeal decide on Gov. Udom’s stay of Proceeding pending before the Court of Appeal.

Gov. Udom Emmanuel had appealed the ruling of the Federal High Court delivered on 30th of May, 2019 in an application which he filed asking the Court to quash counts 1 to 6 of the charges filed against Mr Paul Usoro SAN on the ground that whatever decision reached may adversely affect him. He argued in the application that having included his name in count 1 to 6 of the charge sheet, the charges ought to be quashed in view of his constitutional immunity. Justice Aikawa had ruled that despite the fact that he is named in the charge, he is not a party to the suit.

At the resumed hearing of the case today, 3rd July, 2019, learned counsel to Gov. Udom,  informed the Court that an appeal has been filed and records transmitted to the Court of Appeal. He also informed the Court that an application for stay of proceedings has been filed before both the Federal High Court and Court of Appeal. He argued that since the Records of Appeal has been compiled and transmitted, the Court of Appeal is now seised of the matter and the Federal High Court lacks jurisdiction to entertain the matter. He urged the Court in the circumstance to stay further proceedings in other not to foist a situation of fait accompli on the Appeal Court.

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Opposing the application, the prosecution counsel, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo argued that the Court is prohibited from entertaining any application for stay of proceedings in criminal trial. He relied on Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, Section 40 (4) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Act (EFCC) and the case of Metuh vs. FRN in urging the Court not to entertain the application.

Responding to the above submission, Mr. Nwankwo argued that the application bothers on the Applicant’s right to fair hearing which is a fundamental right enshrined in the constitution. He argued that the provisions of the constitution are superior to the provisions of any statute or law. He submitted that Section 306 of the EFCC Act is a measure introduced to ensure speedy dispensation of justice and prevent undue delay and must not be deployed to deny a party fair hearing. He further submitted that the case of Metuh is distinguishable from the instant case and urged the Court to stay further action pending the Court of Appeal’s decision. The Defence Counsel Chief Offiong, SAN urged the Court to allow the Court of Appeal decide the application one way or the other noting that this would better serve the interest of justice.

Justice Aikwa in his considered ruling held that Gov. Udom Emmanuel not being a party to the suit cannot ask the court to stay proceedings in the trial. He also ruled that Section 306 of the ACJA and Section 40 of the EFCC Act are intandem with the provision of Section 36 of the Constitution with regards to stay of execution in Criminal Trial. He therefore refused the application.

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Trial commenced in the suit with the EFCC calling it’s first witness Mrs. Udom Idongesit. Her Evidence-in-Chief was however interrupted by an objection raised by Counsel to the Defendant regarding a witness giving oral testimony on content of document tendered. Upon hearing argument of counsel, Justice Aikwa adjouned the suit for ruling on their submission and continuation of trial.

Suit was adjourned to 21st and 31st October, 2019.

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