Paul Dada | When Sanusi Lamido Sanusi (now Emir of Kano) was appointed the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in June 2009 by the late President Umar Yar’Adua he seemed to have a very clear agenda.
Sanusi as CBN helmsman swiftly embarked on an audit/reform exercise which focused on liquidity, capital adequacy and corporate governance which led to the sacking of some of the personalities who held sway in some commercial banks.
Among the axed bank chiefs were Cecilia Ibru of the defunct Oceanic Bank; Francis Atuche of the defunct Bank PHB; Okey Nwosu of the then existing Finbank; Erastus Akingbola of a no more existing Intercontinental Bank, among others.
All these banks mentioned above have been merged or bought over by other banks. The jury is still out on whether the criminal charges filed against these dismissed Managing Directors by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to whom the CBN handed them over, were precipitated by a sense of patriotism or some ignoble reasons.
Whatever the reason(s), Sanusi tried to give the impression that he was a man bent on cleansing the terribly filthy Augean stables.
Well the men and the woman among them were tried in various courtrooms of the Federal High Court, Lagos and the Lagos High Court. Some were preferred multiple charges before different judges of the same court. Some got a favourable verdict while others got a negative verdict against them.
Francis Atuche: a man set free by Lagos High Court, Ikeja
It almost certainly gives him an emotional upheaval, when an important man is facing criminal charges but the situation becomes worse, when he is tried alongside his wife.
This was the lot of Atuche and his wife, Elizabeth, who were both tried at a Lagos High Court for an alleged N25.7 billion debt. Ugo Anyanwu the former Chief Financial Officer of Bank PHB was also a defendant in the criminal matter. This was just one of the suits filed against Atuche.
But presiding judge, Justice Lawal Lateef-Akapo, in his learned wisdom ruled after many months of arguments by the prosecution and the defence that he found no merit in the case. He declared without equivocation that his court was bound by the decisions of the Appeal Court in similar cases involving bank chiefs Okey Nwosu and Erastus Akingbola.
Justice Lawal-Akapo admitted that the prosecution had properly preferred counts 1 to 10 bordering on criminal stealing against the defendants. He, however, held that counts 11 to 27 of the charges did not connect the defendants’ theft with shares and stocks.
Atuche had made an application for dismissal of charges against him. His application was hinged on the verdicts of the Court Appeal in the petitions filed by Nwosu and Akingbola.
Atuche’s counsel, Tayo Oyetibo, had argued as he pointed the court to the decision of the Court of Appeal, which, on November 21, 2014, struck out the theft charges levelled against Nwosu and others.
Oyetibo stated: “The appellate court held that such capital market-based matter was an exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High Court.”
He also made reference to the decision by the Court of Appeal on December 31, 2014 in the case of Mr. Akingbola, as he contended that the cases were similar because they emanated from capital market transactions.
But the EFCC filed an application seeking to adjourn ruling in Atuche’s case, as it noted that it had challenged the verdict of the Court of Appeal in the case of Nwosu and was waiting for judgment. The anti-graft agency prayed the court to adjourn until the judgment in that case.
Justice Lawal-Akapo, however, refused the EFCC’s plea. He stated that the court could not go against the existing judgment by Court of Appeal, which had set defendants free in a similar matter. He stated that no one could determine when the Supreme Court would give a judgment.
“If adjourned sine-dine, decision of this court will be antagonistic to the ruling of the Court of Appeal”, he said.
“I find no merit in the application and the application is hereby dismissed,” he also said.
A former Managing Director of Finbank Plc, Mr. Okey Nwosu, must have heaved deep sighs of relief after the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division struck out the charges against him. The EFCC had alleged in the charges against him at a trial court that he stole N10.9 billion belonging to FinBank.
The appellate court restricted its ruling to Nwosu even though he was charged alongside former directors of the bank, Dayo Famoroti, Danjuma Ocholi and Agnes Ebubedike.
The three wise men sitting on the panel unanimously declared that the Lagos High Court in Ikeja where the charges were instituted against Nwosu and others had no jurisdiction over capital market issues which formed the basis of the charges. They also said that the facts of the case did not support the stealing Nwosu was accused of.
Delivering the lead judgement, Justice Sidi Baga held that the ruling of the High Court of Lagos State (Ikeja Judicial Division(Criminal Law Division) delivered by Justice L. A Okunnu in charge ID/115c/2011 on May 24, 2011 is hereby set aside by this court.
The EFCC disagreeing with the judgement through its Media and Publicity department issued a statement: “The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Monday, December 13, 2013 told a Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja that it had filed an appeal at the Supreme Court against the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division striking out the theft charge instituted against a former Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of FinBank Plc ( now First City Monument Bank), Mr Okey Nwosu.
“The Court of Appeal, Lagos Division, had on November 21, 2013 struck out the theft charge preferred against the former banker. The court ruled that the Lagos High Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the charges because they emanated from capital market transactions. According to the court, such transactions should be handled by the Federal High Court.
“Following the ruling, three former directors of the bank, Dayo Famoroti, Danjuma Ocholi and Agnes Ebubedike, who were charged alongside Nwosu approached the Lagos High Court to dismiss the charges preferred against them based on the judgment of the appellate court.
“But counsel to the EFCC, Mr. Rotimi Jacob (SAN), prayed the court to adjourn the matter indefinitely pending the determination of its appeal at the apex court.
“Justice Okunnu upheld the prayers of Jacob and adjourned the matter sine die to allow the Supreme Court rule on the matter.
“It would be recalled that Okey Nwosu was arraigned alongside Dayo Famoroti, Danjuma Ocholi, Agnes Ebubedike on a 26-count charge bordering on stealing and illegal conversion of N19.2 billion belonging to the bank.
Some reliefs finally came the way of Akingbola over the charge of N47.1 billion theft preferred against him by EFCC when the Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos struck out the case.
After Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo of the Lagos State High Court sitting in Ikeja, had on May 2, 2014 dismissed the application of Akingbola and his co-defendant, Bayo Dada, on the issue of jurisdiction, the defendants went on to file their separate appeals to challenge the jurisdiction of the court to hear the 22-count charge filed against them by EFCC.
In a unanimous decision, the higher court allowed the appeal as it held that the subject matter of the alleged offences related to banking operations and operation of capital market issues, and it fell within the exclusive jurisdiction of the Federal High Court.
Delivering the lead judgement, Justice Amina Augie maintained that the lower court judge took a narrow view of the matter when he assumed jurisdiction on the matter. The judgement was adopted by other members of the panel (Justice Samuel Oseji and Justice Abimbola Obaseki-Adejumo).
The appellate took the view that the subject matter of the alleged offences related to banking operations and capital market issues. These it said were outside the purview of the Lagos High Court. The court further held that the lower court failed in its duty as an unbiased umpire when it refused to study thoroughly the processes presented before it.
Justice Augie said that the trial court turned a blind eye to the proof of evidence brought before it before delivering its ruling. “It is the duty of the court to do substantial justice; a one-sided justice is no justice at all,” she said.
This was in a case brought against him at the Lagos High Court. But in a 26-count N5 billion criminal charges brought against Akingbola at the Federal High Court, Lagos, the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal rather ordered his retrial.
Justice Charles Archibong of the Federal High Court had, in April 2012, set Akingbola free from the 26-count charge for lack of diligent prosecution on the part of the EFCC.
But the EFCC appealed against the ruling, and the consequence of that was the unanimous verdict of the Appeal Court which held that the lower court’s ruling was a nullity, and that the case be reassigned to the lower court before another judge for accelerated hearing.
In a judgment read by Justice Y. B. Nimpap on behalf of Justice Amina Augie, the court held that any bystander who watched the proceedings that necessitated the appeal, could possibly come to a conclusion that there was fair hearing.
The Appeal Court noted that the court must decide on the merit of every application before it. It maintained that it could not be said that the prosecution was not ready to move its application for stay of proceedings on the day that the charges were dismissed.
But dissatisfied with the decision of the Appellate Court, Akingbola filed an appeal at the Supreme Court to upturn the verdict of the Court of Appeal in Lagos..
Akingbola anchored his appeal on two grounds namely: that the justices of the Court of Appeal erred in law when they held that the trial judge (Justice Archibong) dismissed the charge and discharges Akingbola without stating the grounds on which the decision was based.
That the lower court erred in law when it held that any bystander, who watched what transpired that day in court, would certainly come away with the impression that the appellant (EFCC) did not get a fair hearing.
Ibru slammed with a 25-count charge of money laundering and mismanagement of depositors’ funds totaling over N160 billion, did not waste time at the Federal High Court, Lagos before pleading guilty.
She had struck a plea-bargain with the EFCC. Her comeuppance was a sentence of six months’ imprisonment and the forfeiture of a whopping N150 billion. This was in October 2010.