The Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, on Friday, ordered that the name of the Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Udom Emmanuel, be removed from the money laundering charges filed against the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Paul Usoro, SAN.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission accused Usoro of converting and laundering N1.4bn belonging to the Akwa Ibom State Government.
In the four out of the 10 counts filed against Usoro, the EFCC alleged that Usoro converted and laundered the N1.4bn in connivance with Emmanuel.
The anti-graft agency, however, did not list Emmanuel as a defendant in the case, indicatingthat the governor is “currently constitutionally immune against criminal prosecution.”
However, listed as Usoro’s co-defendants in the case are the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Finance, Nsikan Nkan; the state’s Accountant General, Mfon Udomah; the Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Uwemedimo Nwoko; and the cashier at the Akwa Ibom State Government House, Margaret Ukpe.
But Emmanuel, through his lawyer, Dr Charles Mekwunye, had contended that the charges were defective because his name was mentioned in spite of the fact that he enjoyed immunity from prosecution as a sitting state governor.
He urged the court to quash the entire charges.
“It is unconstitutional for the complainant to supervise Akwa Ibom State’s use of funds,” Emmanuel’s lawyer also argued.
But the prosecuting counsel for the EFCC, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, told the court that Emmanuel’s name was only mentioned in the charges, he was not listed as a defendant.
In his ruling on May 30, 2019, Justice Rilwan Aikawa agreed with the EFCC that the governor was not a defendant in the case, noting that his name was “merely mentioned” as one of those who allegedly conspired with the NBA President to launder the N1.4bn.
“In every criminal trial, the necessary parties are the complainant and the named defendant, in this case, Mr Paul Usoro. Including the governor’s name in counts one to four does not make him a defendant.
“The mere mention of his name is not enough to make the applicant a defendant in this trial,” Justice Aikawa held.
The judge said the four counts in which Emmanuel’s name featured “are mere statements that have not graduated to a charge. He, therefore, rejected Emmanuel’s prayer to quash the charges”
But displeased, Emmanuel approached the Court of Appeal to challenge Justice Aikawa’s decision.
In a lead judgment on Friday by Justice Bello Aliyu, the Court of Appeal uphold Emmanuel’s appeal and quashed the four counts in which his name appeared.