Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, who was dismissed by the National Judicial Council (NJC), on Monday told the Federal High Court in Lagos that she is still a judge of the court.
According to her, she remains a judge until President Muhammadu Buhari’s approval of her dismissal is gazetted. She is praying the court to decline jurisdiction to try her for money laundering because a serving judge cannot undergo trial until formally dismissed.
Arguing her preliminary objection, Ofili-Ajumogobia’s lawyer Robert Clarke (SAN) faulted a letter from the Presidency confirming that she had been dismissed.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which arraigned Ofili-Ajumogobia, tendered the letter as proof that she is no longer a judge. But, Clarke contended the letter was addressed to the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) rather than to the Chairman of the Federal Judicial Service Commission (FJSC).
Besides, he said the letter was marked “Restricted”, both of which make it is a private document. “Having been marked by the maker as ‘Restricted’, it means the letter cannot be used by third parties for any purpose,” Clarke said. The octogenarian SAN argued that the recommendation to dismiss Ofili-Ajumogobia was sent to the President by the FJSC.
He said there is no evidence that the FJSC has received the President’s response approving or rejecting the recommendation. “The prosecution has failed to show that Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia is not a judge of the Federal High Court. “Until that is resolved, your Lordship’s hands are tied with regards to the Nganjiwa case,” Clarke said.
He referred to the Court of Appeal judgment in which it was held that a sitting judge cannot be tried. Meanwhile, Ajumogobia’s co-accused Godwin Obla (SAN) is praying the court to quash the charge or order that he be tried separately. Arguing the application, his lawyer Chief Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN) accused EFCC of persecuting his client and abusing the judicial process.
EFCC first charged Ofili-Ajumogobia and Obla at the Lagos State High Court, but the case was struck out for lack of jurisdiction after 13 witnesses were called. The court relied on the Court of Appeal decision in striking out the case. Obla had appealed the court’s decision not to rule on his no-case submission. Adedipe said EFCC filed the fresh charge at the Federal High Court while the appeal was pending.
“It is improper for the prosecution to file two charges against the same person. No citizen should be the subject of prosecution on the same set of facts. They can elect to try someone on stealing or money laundering, not on both in different courts. “The court should not allow a situation where the state will persecute its citizens,” he said. But, prosecuting counsel Rotimi Oyedepo said the charges were “different in form and in substance”.
According to him, while the Ikeja High Court case was based on the Criminal Law of State 2011, the Federal High Court case is based on the Money Laundering Act, an Act of the National Assembly.
“No law prohibits the prosecution from filing the instant charge. The pendency of the appeal does not affect the validity of the charge in that the offences alleged are not the same,” he said. Oyedepo said even if the Lagos High Court had acquitted and discharged the defendants, the EFCC would still not be precluded from filing the money laundering charge.
EFCC arraigned Ofili-Ajumogobia on an 18-count charge. It alleged that she and Obla conspired on May 21, 2014, to indirectly conceal and retain N5million in the Diamond Bank account of Nigel & Colive Ltd.
Ofili-Ajumogobia was also accused of indirectly concealing N12million in the same account despite knowing that it is a proceed of “unlawful enrichment”. The offence is contrary to Section (2) (d) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2011.
The commission said she indirectly retained $150,000 in her account on May 30, 2013, knowing that it was a proceed of “unlawful enrichment”. Other sums she allegedly retained are $20,000, $30,000, $50,000, $150,000, $70,000, $55,000, $50,000, $50,000 and $30,000. The prosecution said all the sums are “proceeds of unlawful enrichment”.
EFCC further alleged that Ofili-Ajumogobia, on or about June 5, 2012, indirectly retained N18million from Arkleen Oil and Gas Ltd in her account domiciled in Access Bank Plc. The commission said she also reasonably ought to have known that the money “forms part of proceeds of unlawful act to wit: unlawful enrichment…”
Ofili-Ajumogobia allegedly made a false statement to an officer, lying that that N33million was paid into her account for the purchase of a landed property on Rita Ajumogobia Street, Asaba, Delta State capital. The alleged offence of lying to an officer contravenes Section 39 (2) of the EFCC Act. The defendants pleaded not guilty. Justice Rilwan Aikawa adjourned until Friday for ruling.