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Court frees ex-Gov Okorocha, others for alleged N3b fraud

A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has discharged Rochas Okorocha, former Governor of Imo State, and six others from an N3 billion fraud charge brought against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

In a ruling on Monday, Justice Inyang Ekwo upheld the objection raised by the defendants against the propriety of the charge.

Justice Ekwo held that the EFCC acted unlawfully when it ignored the directive by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and proceeded to initiate the criminal proceeding against Okorocha and others.

The judge held that the EFCC, like every other law enforcement/prosecuting agency, was under the obligation to defer to the directive of the AGF in deciding whether or not to prosecute an alleged offender.

Justice Ekwo held that the failure of the EFCC to comply with the directive by the AGF that it submits the case file in the case involving Okorocha and others for review rendered the criminal proceeding it initiated against them nullity.

The judge voided the proceeding and discharged the defendants – Okorocha, Nyerere Chinyere, Naphtali International Ltd, Perfect Finish Multi Projects Ltd, Consolid Projects Consulting Ltd, Pramif International Ltd, and Legend World Concepts Ltd.

Justice Ekwo said that the directive of the AGF in a letter dated September 12, 2022, to the EFCC to forward the case file as well as the EFCC’s comments on the issues for consideration and review was binding on the commission.

“All that the law required of the respondent (EFCC) was for the respondent when directed by the HAGF, pursuant to any enactment, is to comply and not act as if it is not under the law or is exempted thereby,” he said.

“For the avoidance of doubt, the office of the HAGF is founded on the provisions of the constitution and is thereby preserved.

“The controversies and drama surrounding this tral proceeding is needless and it is time to stop it.”

Justice Ekwo held that from the moment the AGF gave the directive to the EFCC, the commission ceased to have the legal authority to prosecute or continue the prosecution of the case.

“In other words, the intervention of the HAGF in any criminal proceedings ends the authority of the prosecuting agency in the matter unless otherwise directed by the HAGF.

“In the end, I find that non-compliance by the respondent with the directive of the HAGF as stated in Exhibit Okorocha 7 is fatal to this proceeding and has rendered it a nullity.

“The respondent is not empowered by any law to continue with this proceeding after the HAGF issued the directive in Exhibit Okorocha 7.

“With Exhibit Okorocha 7, it is only the HAGF that can decide whether or not to charge the defendants upon the case file being remitted to his office as directed,” he added.

The judge upheld the defendants’ contention that the earlier judgment of a court of coordinate jurisdiction sitting in Port Harcourt, in a suit marked: FHC/PH/FHR/165, between Okorocha and EFCC, retraining the commission from further proceeding on the alleged offence, had not been set aside.

Justice Ekwo, who held the order is binding until it is set aside, said: “The fact that a person refuses to comply with the law does not change the law, neither does the law change to accommodate the act of non-compliance by any person.

“What happens when a person elects not to comply with the law is that the law turns its back on the person.

“When that happens, every action or decision taken by such person in the process of non-compliance becomes illegal and the court will set aside the such act of non-compliance ex debito justitiae.

“This is so because there is no machination that can be used to salvage an illegal act.

“I, therefore, make an order striking out the charge which found this proceeding. The consequence is that the defendants are discharged,” Ekwo said.

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