Justice Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja yesterday told the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPIPRPP) that it lacks prosecutorial powers to initiate criminal proceedings against any Nigerian.
Justice Ekwo, who in a ruling delivered, held that the function of the panel ends with the completion of investigation, saying any attempt by the panel to file charges on its own is ultra vires, null and void since the constitution did not confer on it such powers.
The judge consequently dismissed the charges filed by the panel against the Director of Finance and Accounts in the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Ibrahim Tumsah, and his brother, Tijani Tumsah, also a staff of the ministry.
Following the dismissal of the charges, the court then discharged the defendants of the two-count charge filed against them.
The defendants had in their motion relied on Section 4(4) of Recovery of Public Property Special Provisions Act to urge the court to decline adjudicating on the matter.
Counsel to the defendants, Abdul Mohammed, insisted that the presidential panel has no prosecutorial powers, adding that the section provides for acts that could be taken by the presidential panel.
The counsel informed the court that a full panel of Court of Appeal, had in a judgment delivered on November 5, 2018, barred the presidential panel from filing any charge in court against any person because it lacks such prosecutorial powers.
On his notice of preliminary objection, counsel to the 1st defendant, Kehinde Ogunwumiji SAN, prayed the court for an order striking out the two-count charge for lack of jurisdiction.
He showed the court a copy of the Court of Appeal judgment, adding that section 27(2) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) stipulates that a decision of the Court of Appeal shall be enforced in any part of the federation.
“The Court of Appeal even said it cannot approach any court, not to talk of filing a charge,” Ogunwumiji said.
Arguing further, the senior lawyer submitted that the presidential probe panel was in contempt, having disobeyed the appellate court’s pronouncement.
Replying, counsel to the presidential probe panel, Celsus Ukpong, vehemently opposed the applications, and urged the court to dismiss them.
Ukpong argued that the Court of Appeal judgment was not applicable in the instant case.
He posited that under section 3(3) of the Recovery of Public Property Special Provisions Act, the president has the power to set up a probe panel, and that the panel can sue on behalf of the president.
Ukpong submitted that Section 4(4) of the Act, which the 1st defendant’s counsel referred to “mainly talked about suspects who had received and completed their asset declaration forms.”
But where a person neglected and refused to declare the person’s assets that constitute a criminal act, liable for prosecution by a lawyer on behalf of president.
After taking submission, Justice Ekwo fixed February 25 for ruling.
Both brothers, it would be recalled, were re-arraigned on October 31, 2018, before Justice Ekwo of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja for their failure to declare their assets.
Specifically, the two public servants were prosecuted by the Okoi Obono Obla-led presidential probe panel for refusing and neglecting to declare their assets to the special panel.