Drama as EFCC operatives arrest Justice Ajumogobia in court
By Olisemeka Obeche
A mild drama played out as Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, a dismissed judge of the Federal High Court, was arrested by officials of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at the premises of an Ikeja High Court shortly after corruption charges against her were struck out on Tuesday.
Orient Daily gathered that about 10 officials of the EFCC waylaid Ofili-Ajumogobia as she attempted to exit Ikeja High Court around 10.24 a.m. after the ruling by Justice Hakeem Oshodi. However, as the EFCC officials closed in on her, the embattled ex-judge made a hasty retreat and ran back upstairs into the courtroom in desperate bid to evade arrest. Despite frantic phone calls in company of her husband, the former High Court judge was eventually nabbed by the EFCC officials after Justice Oshodi’s court ended its session and was whisked away in a White Hilux van with registration number BWR 637 AT.
While Mrs Ofili-Ajumogobia was apprehended by the EFCC operatives, Mr. Godwin Obla, her co-defendant in the quashed corruption case, was allowed to exit the court premises.
Before her dramatic arrest, Justice Oshodi, in his ruling, struck out the 31-count charge filed by the anti-corruption agency against Mrs Ofili-Ajumogobia and Mr. Godwin Obla, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
Justice Oshodi held that, based on the judicial precedent set by the case of Justice Nganjiwa V. FRN, the High Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the suit as the EFCC “jumped the gun” in filing the first amended charge. He wondered why the EFCC still went ahead with the trial by calling more witnesses despite being aware of the decision in Mr Nganjiwa’s case regarding the proper procedure to discipline erring judicial officers.
The judge said: “As at Monday, December 11, 2017, the EFCC was aware of the decision reached by the Court of Appeal in Nganjiwa vs FRN. As at that date, the amended information was yet to be filed and the 12th prosecution witness was still giving evidence. The prosecution persisted like a bull running amok and still called two more witnesses and precious judicial time was wasted.
“We have not found a way in the judicial atmosphere to discipline or penalise an agency of government through fines or costs. In conclusion, the court has no jurisdiction to hear the first amended charge of February 21, 2018 of 31 counts. This suit is hereby struck out.”
Orient Daily recalled that while delivering his judgment in the Nganjiwa’s case, Justice Obaseki Adejumo of the Court of Appeal held that the EFCC does not have power to investigate and prosecute serving judicial officers.
Justice Adejumo argued that the National Judicial Council (NJC) must first strip the appellant of his judicial standing before he could be charged. The Court of Appeal judge further stated that serving judicial officers can only be prosecuted for offence like murder, stealing etc done outside the discharge of their duties.
It argued that once the offence was committed in the discharge of their duties, they must first be tried by NJC.
During proceedings on January 25, Rotimi Oyedepo, the lead prosecuting counsel for the EFCC via a written address dated December 13, 2018, urged the court to strike out the charge because the EFCC did not charge Ofili-Ajumogobia in line with the NJC guidelines.
Robert Clarke, the defence counsel to Mrs Ofili-Ajumogobia, in an application dated November 27, 2018 had said the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case, and had urged the court to discharge and acquit his client.
Ifedayo Adedipe, the defence counsel to Mr Godwin Obla, Mrs Ofili-Ajumogobia’s co-defendant, urged the court to separate the joint charges of the defendants.
Addressing the issues raised in the submissions of the defence counsel on January 25, Justice Oshodi in Tuesday’s ruling, said the court could not discharge Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia, neither can the charges against Mr Obla be severed.
“The order of discharge for the first defendant cannot hold. The court cannot also serve a charge as proposed by the counsel to the second defendant. The charge has to be amended and the second defendant has to retake his plea,” he said.
Previously, on September 14, 2018, the EFCC had closed its case against the embattled former judge.
In proving its case of corruption against her, the EFCC had presented 14 witnesses and tendered several documents that were admitted in evidence by the court.
The anti-graft commission, in an amended charge dated February 23, 2018, had alleged that Mrs Ofili-Ajumogobia had illegally received a sum of 793,800 dollars in several tranches from different sources between 2012 and 2015.
On his part, Mr. Obla was alleged by the EFCC to have offered a sum of N5 million as gratification to Mrs. Ofili-Ajumogobia, so as to pervert the course of justice.