[UPDATED] FRN v Usoro: Court Discharges Bench Warrant Against A’ Ibom AG, 3 Ors.

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Justice Aikawa of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has discharged the bench warrant issued for the arrest of the Attorney General of Akwa Ibom state and three other Government officials in the ongoing  trial of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) Mr. Paul Usoro SAN in respect of the professional fees received by his firm Paul Usoro & Co from the Akwa Ibom State Government.

At the resumed hearing of the suit, A Adedipe SAN led 22 counsel, including five Senior Advocates of Nigeria for the Defendant while Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo with A. O Mohammed appeared for the EFCC. Chief Mike Ozekhome led 6 counsel for the AG of Akwa Ibom Uwemedimo Thomas Nwoko, Nsiksn Linus Akan, Mfon Jacobson Udoma and Margareth Thomson Ukpe while Dr. Mekunye appeared with 2 counsel for the Gov. of Akwa Ibom State.

The suit  came up for the hearing of all pending applications; to wit: , Chief Mike Ozekhome SAN’s application seeking to set aside the bench warrant issued by the Honourable Court against the AG and three officials of Akwa Ibom State and application challenging the jurisdiction of the Honourable Court to entertain the case as presently constituted filed by Gov. Udom Emmanuel of Akwa Ibom State.

Chief Ozekhome SAN prayed the court to discharge the bench warrant issued against the four applicants noting that the application was made mala fide. Tracing the history of what he tagged “harassment of Akwa Ibom State Government officials, the Learned Silk noted that the harassment has been on since February, 2017, despite the presence of several court order restraining the EFCC from interfering with the activities of the officials.

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He further informed the Honourable Court that presently, the EFCC is being tried for contempt of court by the Federal High Court in Akwa Ibom State and has used every known tactic to delay the contempt proceedings while still pursuing the officials.

On the present bench warrant issued by Justice Aikawa against the AG and three others at the instance of EFCC, Chief Ozekhome noted that the officials are not parties to the suit and were not issued with any summons prior to the application and issuance of the bench warrant. He relied on Section 36(6)(a) of the Constitution, Sections 87, 113, 131, 133, 134, 177, 382, 394, 398 and 399 of the ACJA in urging the Honourable Court to discharge the warrant of arrest.

He further cited the cases of Kabiru Nig. Ltd v FRN and Akpugo v. FRN both Court of Appeal decisions in support of his argument that the honourable Court cannot issue bench warrants on persons who are strangers to it’s proceedings without proper summons. He then urged the Court to discharge the order.

In his response, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, counsel for the EFCC agreed with the argument of Chief Ozekhome, he informed the court that having read the authorities cited by the Applicant counsel, he conceded that the bench warrant was sought and issued in error. He withdrew his counter affidavit and urged the Honourable Court to discharge the warrant.

On the strength of the above submissions, the Court discharged the bench warrants issued against the AG of Akwa Ibom state and three other officials of the state.

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On his part, Dr. Charles Mekunye arguing his preliminary objection challenging the Court’s Jurisdiction urged the court among other things to strike out the charges as the Gov of Akwa Ibom State who presently enjoy immunity from prosecution by virtue of his office must be present for the just determination of the charges. Mr. Oyedepo filed counter affidavit and argued that the court has jurisdiction to determine the suit before the Honourable Court.

The suit was adjourned to 30th of May, 2019 for ruling on Jurisdiction.

Recall that Mr. Usoro SAN is being tried for allegedly  professional fees  received by his firm Paul Usoro & Co from the Akwa Ibom State Government, monies which according to the EFCC he ought to have known “forms part of the proceeds of unlawful act”.

Mr. Usoro SAN has  maintained that he presented enough evidence to justify that the sums were professional fees charged and received.

For onlookers, especially, lawyers, it is important that this particular case is determined on its merit to afford lawyers a clearer view of steps to take in receiving professional fees.

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