A five-man panel of the Supreme Court, led by Justice Dattijo Muhammed, unanimously held in its ruling delivered on Friday that by virtue of the provisions of both laws, no Nigerian court, including the Supreme Court, had the power to stay proceedings in a criminal case. The apex court made the pronouncements in a ruling dismissing an application for stay of proceedings in the criminal trial of a former National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Olisa Metuh, before a Federal High Court in Abuja. Some senior lawyers, particularly those defending high-profile accused persons, often argue that the provisions of Section 306 of ACJA and Section 40 of the EFCC Act, prohibiting courts from staying proceedings in a criminal trial, contravened the constitutional right to appeal of persons charged with an offence. But Justice Clara Ogunbiyi, in her lead ruling of the apex court, delivered on Friday, held that the provisions of both laws were in agreement with Section 36 (4) of the Constitution which provides that any person charged with a criminal offence “shall be…entitled to fair hearing in public within a reasonable time.” Justice Ogunbiyi stated, “It is only logical to interpret the spirit of the foregoing constitutional provision to translate that where the grant of an application for stay will unnecessarily delay and prolong the proceedings, it will not be granted.” According to her, it is the application for stay of proceedings in a criminal case that “violently” violates the Constitution as well as the provisions of the ACJA and the EFCC Act, while the two statutes are in agreement with the Constitution. The EFCC is prosecuting Metuh and his company, Destra Investments Limited, before Justice Okon Abang at the Federal High Court in Abuja on seven counts of fraud and money laundering charges. The alleged offences involved the sums of $2m and N400m which the defendants allegedly received unjustifiably from the Office of the National Security Adviser in 2014 allegedly to fund the PDP’s 2015 presidential campaign. In its ruling on Friday, the apex court’s five man-panel dismissed Metuh’s application for stay of proceedings for being “violently in conflict” with the provisions of section 36 (4) of the Constitution as well as section 306 of the ACJA, Section 40 of the EFCC Act 2004 and a number of case law authorities. Justice Ogunbiyi held that the decision by the Supreme Court in 2016, granting a stay of proceedings in the trial of the Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, a case law cited by Metuh’s lawyer, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), was irrelevant. She added, “This court (the Supreme Court) pronounced also in Olubukola Saraki V Federal Republic of Nigeria (2016) 3 NWLR (Pt. 1500) SC 531 that the Code of Conduct Tribunal is not a court of superior record of jurisdiction, but a court of quasi-criminal jurisdiction. “Therefore, the application of the cases to the circumstances of this case (Metuh’s case) cannot be relevant as rightly submitted by the learned counsel for the first respondent (EFCC’s lawyer). “The appellant/applicant’s (Metuh’s) motion for stay of proceedings is violently in conflict with the provisions of Section 36(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), Section 306 of ACJA and Section 40 of the EFCC (Establishment) Act, 2004, as well as the plethora of case law authorities cited.” The five-man bench disagreed with Metuh’s lawyer on the point of whether or not the provisions of Section 306 only relate to the trial court and not the appellate courts –the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. Justice Ogunbiyi, in her lead ruling, agreed with EFCC’s lawyer, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir, to the effect that by virtue of Section 15 of the Court of Appeal Act, the appeal court could grant an interim order or any injunction, only which the court below (the trial court) had the jurisdiction to make or grant. She also referred to a replica of the provision of the Court of Appeal Act in the Section 22 of the Supreme Court Act. Justice Ogunbiyi noted that the Section 22 of the Supreme Court Act had also restricted the apex court to making an interim order or granting any injunction “which the court below (the Court of Appeal) was authorised to make or grant”. She therefore held that an order of stay of proceedings, being a form of an interim order or injunction, the Federal High Court and other trial courts had, by both Section 306 of ACJA and Section 40 of the EFCC Act, been prohibited from granting it, it followed that neither the Court of Appeal nor the Supreme Court had the power to grant same. “Contrary to the submission advanced by the applicant’s counsel, the consequential effect is that the Supreme Court, like the two lower courts, also lacks the powers to stay proceedings under Section 22 of the Supreme Court Act or under its inherent powers,” she held. The Justice of the Supreme Court added, “The appellant’s counsel (Metuh’s lawyer) argued vehemently that Section 306 of the ACJA does not apply to the court below (the Court of Appeal) or this court (the Supreme Court). “The argument, in my view, is grossly misconceived as rightly submitted by the first respondent’s counsel (EFCC’s lawyer). “The conclusion, as stated earlier, is predicated squarely on the contention of Section 306 of the ACJA and Section 40 of the EFCC (Establishment) Act, 2004, whereby the trial court lacks the powers to order for stay of proceedings; also, the court below under Section 15 of the Court of Appeal Act as well as this court under Section 22 of the Supreme Court Act also lacks the power to order for stay of further proceedings pending before the trial court. “I wish to emphasise that this is a criminal proceeding. “There are also clear constitutional and statutory provisions that enjoin and mandate the trial court not to delay criminal cases.” Other members of the panel – Justices Muhammad, Justice Kudirat Kekere-Ekun, Ejembi Eko and Sidi Bage – agreed with the lead ruling. With the Friday’s ruling of the Supreme Court, Metuh’s trial before the Federal High Court in Abuja will resume on June 19, to enable Justice Abang to deliver some interlocutory rulings earlier put on hold to await the outcome of the apex court’s decision.]]>
Written By Obioma Ezenwobodo Esq
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