The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, will on Thursday, 13 December, 2012, argue a notice of preliminary objection before Justice Mohammed Idris of a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos, challenging its jurisdiction in granting an order of prohibition against the arraignment of Chairman of Bi-Courtney Limited, Wale Babalakin over a N2.9 billion scam.
At the Lagos High Court presided over by Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo, a January 17, 2013 date has been fixed for possible arraignment and hearing of the pending application filed by counsel to Babalakin in which he sought an adjournment of the case preferred against him by the Commission. Though Babalakin and his co-defendants are yet to be arraigned, his counsel, Bolaji Ayorinde, has also filed an application seeking for bail.
When proceedings of the money laundering case resumed before Justice Idris on December 12, 2012, EFCC’s lead counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, in an application, said that the Federal High Court, through its order of 29 November, 2012, granting Babalakin leave to apply for an order of certiorari and prohibition against his arraignment, lacked jurisdiction and competence to entertain the suit.
Besides, Rotimi hinged his application on the grounds that Babalakin’s application in seeking the order was an abuse of court process. He also said that the reliefs Babalakin sought are not available under the law and that his action did not disclose any reasonable cause of action.
It would be recalled that Babalakin’s counsel, Mr. Wale Akoni, SAN, filed a motion ex-parte before Justice Idris of the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Lagos, seeking the leave of the court for an order of prohibition against Babalakin’s arraignment. The court granted the order but Jacobs stated in his notice of preliminary objection that the EFCC had a right to raise an objection before the court could hear Babalakin’s motion on notice.
The EFCC had planned to arraign Wale Babalakin and four others on 29 November, 2012, on a 27 count charge bordering on money laundering before Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo of a Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja, but could not go ahead owing to Babalakin’s absence in court.
Jacobs urged the court to compel Akoni to respond to the preliminary objections he raised. Akoni had tried to ignore the objections and proceed with the substantive suit but Jacobs took exemptions to it. “My Lord, my learned colleague is choosing to ignore the preliminary objection and wants to proceed with the substantive suit. The application is right for hearing”, he said. In his ruling, Justice Mohammed Idrrs adjourned proceedings to Thursday, 13 December, 2012 to allow hearing of Akoni’s response to the preliminary objections raised by Jacobs.
The EFCC had filed a 27 count charge against Babalakin before Justice Onigbanjo. Alex Okoh and three companies: Stabilini Visioni Limited, Bi-countney Limited and Renix Nigeria Limited are also alleged to have between May 2006 and December 2006 corruptly conferred benefits on former Governor of Delta State, James Onanefe Ibori over N2,956,600,000.00 on account of contracts awarded by Delta State government to Stabilini Visioni Limited by transferring the said sum through third parties to Erin Aviation account in Mauritius for the purchase of Challenger Jet Aircraft by the said James Ibori.
During proceedings, counsel to Babalakin, E. O. Shofunde, SAN, told the court that he had filed an application to withdraw from representing Babalakin in the matter. Though he stated that it was for personal reasons, prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, however commended him for his uprightness and integrity.
Rotimi told the court that he received a letter from Shofunde in which he alluded to the fact that he was withdrawing from representing Babalakin because his client has filed an application at the Federal High Court without his knowledge.
However, Bolaji Ayorinde, SAN, who had assumed position as counsel to Babalakin interjected Jacobs, saying that the matter should be allowed to rest as Shofunde has said it was for personal reasons. But Rotimi insisted that he owed the court a duty to inform it of what has happened.
Rotimi further told the court that on 29November when they left the court, he got information that there was a case at the Federal High Court in which the defendants were seeking to stop the matter from going on at the Lagos State High Court. He said yesterday, at about 5.40 pm the first accused person served him with an application dated December 11, 2012, which he said were indication that the defendant did not want the matter to go on. He said what they filed yesterday was an application for adjournment as well as a bail application, though the defendant is yet to take his plea.
Ayorinde, counsel to Babalakin urged the court to distance itself from the submission made by Rotimi as he told the court that the 1st defendant was a citizen of Nigeria and was therefore entitled to explore all legal grounds whenever he felt his right is being infringed upon. He said the application was based on the health of the 1st defendant and that if Rotimi was served yesterday it was because that was the most appropriate time to do so.
While adjourning to January 17, 2013, for hearing of pending applications and possible arraignment of Babalakin, Justice Onigbanjo directed EFCC to get a professional report on the true state of his health as that would enable the court to know the next line of action.