On Thursday, August 17, a Federal High Court in Lagos will rule on a request by the federal government to drop the “illegal possession of firearm charge” it brought against suspended Central Bank of Nigeria governor Godwin Emefiele.
After hearing the arguments of the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) of the Ministry of Justice, Mohammed Abubakar, and Emefiele’s main attorney, Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Joseph Daudu, Justice Nicholas Oweibo set the date.
Godwin Emefiele, the suspended governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, filed motions with the court on August 10 asking Justice Oweibo to delay further hearing until today, August 15, in order to prevent the federal government from further remanding or prosecuting him on the charge of illegal possession of a firearm and ammunitions or on any other charge for that matter.
The defendant was also seeking an order of the court discharging him of all offences prosecuted by the Government which is in “brazen disobedience” of the subsisting orders of the court granting him bail on July 25, 2023. And a further order prohibiting the Federal Government from continuing to enjoy any form of indulgence from the courts except and unless it complies with the bail ruling.
The FG on its part had filed an application seeking leave to appeal the bail ruling and to stay the proceedings of the court pending the appeal.
When the matter came up today, the DPP, made an oral application to the court to withdraw the two-count charge against the suspended CBN Governor.
The DPP told the court that the application which was brought pursuant to Sections 174 (1) (c) (2) of the Constitution and Section 108 (2) (4) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, (ACJA)2015, was informed by “emerging facts and circumstances” that need further investigations. He urged the judge to grant the application.
But the defence counsel, a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Joseph Daudu disagreed.
In his objection, Daudu said such an application could not be made orally. He also argued that the Prosecution must first purge itself of its disobedience to the order of the court granting his client bail on July 25, before its application could be heard.
Daudu said, “There is no application before the court. What the DPP is seeking to do is a nolle and it must be in writing. The government cannot come orally. The Sections of the ACJA which he has cited do not operate in a vacuum. The ACJA is an inferior legislation and the constitution is supreme.
Even though he noted that there was currently no AGF, the defendant’s lead counsel cited Section 174 (3) of the Constitution, which provides for the powers of nolle of the AGF that can be donated to any of his officers.
“We are also opposed to the application because the prosecution is in disobedience of the court on the defendant’s bail and we submit that the court should not entertain them until they purge themselves of their disobedience. No other steps should be taken until the issue of the integrity of the court is determined. We are at a crossroads and we need to prevent abuse of legal process,” Daudu said.
After hearing the arguments of both parties, Justice Oweibo noted that the Federal Government’s application came as a “surprise to the court”. He adjourned till Thursday, August 17 to enable the court to consider all the arguments made so as to write a ruling.
In an interview with journalists after the proceedings, the DPP said, “We are withdrawing the charge because of emerging facts pending further investigations, at the end of which we will probably come back with more charges and more counts.
“If you listen to our submissions in court, we distinguished Sections 107 from 108. While Section 107 provides that the application for withdrawal shall be in writing, Section 108 is silent on the mode, it gives the prosecutor the authority to apply to the judge, and our application was made pursuant to Section 108. ”
The DPP also clarified that even though he was in custody, the suspended CBN Governor has always had “unhindered access” to his lawyer and relatives.
On the issue of disobedience to the court order, he said, “We are not in disobedience of the court’s order. When the court rendered its ruling granting the defendant, the order was on two legs. He was granted bail and to be remanded in the custody of the Correctional Service pending the fulfilment of bail conditions.
“You will agree with me that there are administrative processes and protocols for handing over a detainee from one agency to another and that is what the State Services had to do, and that was what occasioned the delay in transferring him.
“On the basis of that is the fact that he is also being investigated for other offences, and there is also another pending charge at the FCT High Court as we speak. So all these combined, to slow down the process of complying with the order of the court.”
On the pending charge at the FCT, the DPP said, “We have filed a 20-count charge against the defendant, which bothers on unlawful procurement under the ICPC Act, and conferring unlawful advantages.
Speaking on the alleged charge filed against Emefiele, his lawyer, Daudu, SAN, said, “What we have not seen and what has not been served on us, to us is fiction. When we see it, we deal with it.
“What is on ground today is the disrespect to the court. That disgraceful incident that all of you witnessed should not be left unattended to and the Court fixed today to hear the issues.
“That disrespect to the court must be washed away and cannot be wished away. Before any step can be taken including withdrawal of the charge, there is a greater issue, are the courts to be used like tissue paper blow your nose in it and throw it away?
“The courts are more than that. We came prepared but they ambushed us with an oral application for withdrawal. There is no difference between withdrawal and nolle prosequi. It’s the Attorney General that exercises the power, one is baptismal name for another. The constitution says that before you withdraw, you must be seen to be acting in public interest, in the interest of Justice and must not be an abuse of court process.
“In my humble view, when you have trammelled the order of bail of the court, disgraced a fellow brother agency by dragging one of their officer and threw him in a waiting vehicle, and that issue is before the court, and you think that issue can be avoided by merely withdrawing the charge and everybody will go and sleep.
“I am sorry to say that any other step including withdrawal cannot be attended to until that temerity and disgrace shown to the court is dealt with.”