Justice Rilwan Aikawa of a Federal High Court, Lagos, on Wednesday, dismissed an application filed by the former Minister for Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, seeking to join a criminal charge before the the court.
In dismissing the application, the Justice Aikawa described Diezani’s application as being misuse of court process and misconceived.
The former Minister of petroleum, had on Monday, through her lawyer, Mr Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), urged the Court to issue an order, listing her as a defendant in a N500 million fraud charge involving a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Dele Belgore, and Professor Abubakar Suleiman, a former Minister of National Planning.
At the Monday’s proceedings, Diezani’s lawyer, Ikpeazu (SAN) had moved the court to grant his application for joinder of the applicant, in the sole interest of justice.
Ikpeazu had told the court that his client’s name was conspicuously mentioned in a four-count charge, and that there is no alteration to the fact that she has been charged, which he said she is a consummated complaint.
Ikpeazu, had cited section of 494(1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, (ACJA), and adding that a defendant is any person against whom a complaint or charge is made, while a charge refers to an allegation that any named person has committed an offence.
He also argued that from count one to count four, the name of his client was mentioned as an accomplice, adding that it would be in the interest of justice to join her in the charge.
To convince the court in granting the application, Ikpeazu also cited the authority of Frn vs Jide Omokore, FHC/Abj/CR/121/2016, which he said bears similarity with the instant case, he noted that the judge had struck out the charges on similar grounds.
He also submitted: “We will have no objections if the applicant’s name is extracted from the charge, then, trial can proceed. Otherwise, she should be included in the charge.
“I know that she will be happy to come and face the trial”.
However, Belgore’s lawyer, Mr. E. O. Shofude (SAN) had raised objection to the application.
Shofunde had argued that the Diezani was not a necessary party to the charge, since in the end, the court will only decide the guilt or innocence of the first and second accused who were charged.
Shofunde also contended that by the combined provisions of sections 216(2), 221, 273, 274, and 494(1) of the ACJA, only the prosecution could exercise the power to amend a process during trial.
He argued that it will be incongruous for any other party to seek an amendment of a criminal charge, adding that the court will not make an order in vain.
Besides, counsel argued that it will amount to a waste of precious judicial time if that amendment is allowed since progress have been made in the case.
Responding also to the application, the EFCC lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo, alligned with the first defence counsel, and vehemently opposed the application for joinder.
Citing the judicial authority of Ewenla Vs State, he noted that were trial has commenced, the state can only amend a charge for purposes of adding offences and not defendants.
Oyedepo submitted that if an amendment is allowed at this stage, it will occasion a miscarriage of justice.
He added that several attempts were initially made to interrogate the applicant, but that she fled to London after she got wind of the move by the EFCC, and has since then, carefully avoided any meeting with the commission.
According to Oyedepo, it is misconceived and too late in the day, for the applicant to now seek to be joined in the charge when she is already under investigation in London.
He submitted that whenever the applicant returns to Nigeria, she can still be tried, as time does not run against the prosecution in criminal trial.
Ruling on the application, Justice Aikawa said: “section 276(1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, disagreed with the applicant’s counsel that the power to amend charge lived exclusively with the prosecution and not with any other person.
“I also disagreed with applicant that she is a necessary party in the charge. The only parties in the charge are the complaint, that Federal Republic of Nigeria and the two defendants. Naming the applicant in the charge does not make her a party to the charge in count one to four, the name of the applicant is just a statement.
“This is a case of crying wolf when there was none. The two defendants in the charge can complain of fair hearing but not Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, who is not a party in the charge.
“As it is were therefore, I have no option but to agree that the application is misuse of court process and misconceived.
“The action of the applicant is to avoid justice in United Kingdom. On the whole, I found the application to be lacking in merit, and accordingly dismissed”.
In the amended charge, Diezani was alleged to have conspired with Belgore and Sulaiman on or about March 27, 2015, to directly take possession of the sum of N450 million, which they reasonably ought to have known forms part of proceeds of unlawful act.
The trio were also alleged to have taken the said funds in cash, which exceeded the amount authorized by law, without going through the financial institutions.
Belgore and Sulaiman were also alleged to have paid the sum of N50 million to one, Sheriff Shagaya, without going through any financial institution.
The offences are said to have contravened the provisions of to Sections 15(2)(d), 1(a), 16(d) and 18 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012.
The matter has been adjourned till November 13, for continuation of trial of the duo Belgore and Abubakar