The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal has set aside the ruling of a Federal High Court in Lagos, which in September 2014, freed a former Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Mr. Adeyemi Ikuforiji, and his aide, Mr. Oyebode Atoyebi, of money laundering charges.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had prosecuted Ikuforiji and Atoyebi on 56 counts for allegedly laundering N600m belonging to the Assembly.
But the trial judge, Justice Ibrahim Buba, discharged them after upholding the no-case submission by their lawyer, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN), who argued that the EFCC failed to make out a prima facie case against his clients.
However, a three-man appellate court panel, comprising Justices Biobela Georgewill, Side Dauda Bage and Ugochukwu Ogakwu, in a unanimous decision overturned Justice Buba’s ruling and ordered the return of the case file to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, for re-assignment to another judge where Ikuforiji and Atoriji’s trial would start afresh.
The appellate court upheld the contention of the EFCC’s prosecutor, Chief Godwin Obla (SAN), in the 10-ground notice of appeal filed on September 30, 2014.
Among other things, Obla had contended that Justice Buba erred in law when he pronounced that the charges against Ikuforiji and Atoyebi were incompetent because they were brought under the Money Laundering Act, 2004, said to have been repealed by the Money Laundering Act, 2011.
Obla had also, in one of the grounds of the appeal, contended that the lower court was wrong to have concluded that Section 1 of the MLA applied only to natural persons and corporate bodies and not to government entities like the office of the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly.
Obla had maintained that government entities were not excluded from the provision of the MLA that cash payments shall not be made above the stipulated threshold.
Furthermore, the EFCC lawyer, contended that the conclusion of Justice Buba that the submissions of the two witnesses called by the EFCC supported the innocence of Ikuforiji and Atoyebi.
Obla maintained that contrary to Buba’s conclusion, none of the witnesses actually testified that Ikuforiji and Atoyebi did not receive cash payments above the threshold stipulated by the MLA 2004 and 2011, which according to him was the substance of the charges.
Obla said had told the appellate court, “The evidence of the prosecution witnesses that payments to the respondents were budgeted for and approved by the Governor of Lagos State does not support the innocence of the respondents.”
In its penultimate ground of appeal, Obla said, “The lower court erred in law when it held that the prosecution’s first witness testified that he knew nothing about the case.
“PW1, under cross-examination on June 5, 2014, testified that he personally carried out investigation in this matter.
“There was no evidence that PW1 said he does he not know anything about this matter.
“The findings of the lower court is not supported by the evidence before the lower court.”