A Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday, fixed June 19, to deliver judgment in a suit filed by a former Niger Delta militant, Chief Government Ekpemulopo, alias Tompolo, seeking right enforcement.
Tompolo, who had been declared wanted since Feb. 12, 2016, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), is seeking court’s protection against prosecution for an alleged N45.9 billion fraud.
Joined as respondents in the suit are The Inspector-General of Police, the Chief of Army Staff, the EFCC, the Chief of Naval Staff and the Chief of Air Staff.
On Thursday, Justice Mojisola Olatoregun reserved judgment in the suit after hearing arguments from counsels.
Adopting his originating processes, counsel to the first and second respondent, Mr T.A Mofolu, argued that the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, provides for speedy criminal trials.
He argued that the law provides that an accused has a right of appeal where he is not at par with the decision of a court, adding that the respondent is aware of an appeal filed by the applicant.
He also objected to the annexation of a newspaper publication in the applicant’s further affidavit dated June 16, 2016, on the grounds that such piece of evidence was secondary and ought to be certified at the National library.
He urged the court to dismiss the application for lacking in merit.
In his argument, counsel for the EFCC, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, submitted that the applicant in question, is a “fugitive” in law, and so, should not be allowed to seek redress from the court until he submits himself for trial.
He argued that given the materials placed before the court, it is clear that the applicant is in clear contempt of the order of Justice Ibrahim Buba, who had earlier compelled his attendance in court to answer to charges preferred against him.
Oyedepo described the application as an abuse of court process, since it is trite that a party who is in contempt of court cannot seek redress; he invited the court to throw out the application for lacking in merit.
Oyedepo argued that in his originating processes, the applicant had ridiculously and in contradiction of his claims, annexed a copy of his notice of appeal signed personally by him.
He argued that if the applicant feigns ignorance of the charge, how then was he able to brief his counsel on the charge for an appeal to be filed thereto.
Oyedepo noted that the issue leading to the preferring of a criminal charge against the applicant, borders on fraud, in which billions of naira was lost by the Federal government.
He, therefore, urged the court to dismiss the application and award “heavy” cost against the applicant for abusing the court’s process.
In response to the arguments of respondent’s counsels, Tompolo’s lawyer, Mr. Ebun-Olu Adegboruwa brought his application pursuant to the provisions of the African Charter of Human rights, the constitution, as well as the inherent jurisdiction of the court.
He argued that in criminal law, service of a charge is personal and cannot be presumed, adding that there is no evidence before the court showing that exhibit A (charge) was served on the applicant.
On the issue of contempt Adegboruwa submitted that the applicant cannot be cited for contempt, adding that since the beginning of the proceedings, the applicant cannot be said to have breached any court’s order.
He argued that it is a constitutional right of the applicant to apply to court in enforcement of his right, adding that same cannot be waived; he urged the court to so hold.
After listening to the submissions of counsels, Justice Olatoregun fixed June 19 for judgment.
The EFCC had filed a 40 count charge against Tompolo and nine others before Justice Ibrahim Buba of the same court.
Following persistent failure of Tompolo to attend court, Justice Buba had subsequently, issued a bench warrant for his arrest and production in court.
The court had also on Feb. 19, 2014, ordered a forfeiture of properties belonging to Tompolo, after an application was moved to that effect by the commission.
In his ruling, Justice Buba had held that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 empowers the court to seize properties of an accused who refused to face trial.
The court recalled that even though Tompolo refused to appear in court he briefed his lawyers and through them sought to vacate the order of his arrest.
Consequently, he ordered forfeiture of properties belonging to Tompolo pending the time he choose to appear in court.
Properties affected by the forfeiture order included; a River Crew Change Boat named MUHA – 15, the property known as “Tompolo Dockyard”, and the property known as “Tompolo Yard”, at the end of Chevron Clinic Road, next to Next Oil, Edjeba, Warri.
Others are, the Diving School at Kurutie, at Escravos River, the property known as “Tompolo House” at Oporaza Town, and any other property discovered by the EFCC moveable and immovable.
Meanwhile, in his suit, Tompolo is seeking an order restraining the respondents from further proceeding with the charges against him.
Tompolo contends that sections 221 and 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, which prohibits him from seeking a stay of proceedings in his trial, infringed on his constitutional rights to fair hearing.
Tompolo is urging the court not to only nullify sections 221 and 306 of the ACJA but to also restrain the respondents from deploying those sections of the law against him.
He argued that sections 221 and 306 were in conflict with Section 36 of the Constitution which guarantees his client’s right to fair hearing.