The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal has reinstated a N5bn fraud charge struck out by a Federal High Court in Lagos against a former Managing Director of the defunct Intercontinental Bank Plc, Dr. Erastus Akingbola.
The appellate court, which upturned the judgment of the trial judge, Justice Charles Archibong, ordered the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Mohammed Auta, to re-assign Akingbola’s case to another judge for re-trial “on merit and for accelerated hearing.”
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had, in 2013, dragged Akingbola before Archibong on an allegation of financial impropriety to the tune of N5bn.
However, Archibong on April 2, 2012, struck out the case for want of diligent prosecution.
The judge, while striking out the EFCC’s case against Akingbola, described the prosecuting team as “a drain in the public purse.”
“This prosecution team has chosen to pursue a campaign to scandalise the court, which amounts to a serious and professional incompetence in the prosecution of the accused.
“This prosecution team or any part of it shall not be given further audience in this court in relation to the charges against the accused, either before this presiding judge or any other judge of the Federal High Court, for the reason I have given in the foregoing,” Archibong held.
But displeased with the judge’s decision, the EFCC, through its lawyer, Dr. Khrushchev Ekwueme, headed for the appellate court.
The anti-graft agency, in its four grounds of appeal, contended that Archibong erred in law when he decided to strike out the prosecution’s case without affording it the opportunity to be heard.
The EFCC said that before striking out the case, Archibong failed to invite any of the parties, adding that the decision of the judge to strike out the matter was without the consent of any of the parties.
Besides, the appellant argued that at the time the judge struck out the case, a valid appeal was pending before a higher court, thus making Archibong’s action “a judicial rascality.”
In the particulars of errors raised against the judge, the EFCC also claimed to have asked the judge to hands off the case on September 2, 2011, following its fear of likelihood of bias.
The appellate court, in its lead judgment by Justice Amina Aguie, which was read by Justice Yargata Nimpar, said, “Even a mere bystander who watched the proceedings that necessitated the appeal, could not possibly agree that there was fair hearing.”
Augie further held that the trial judge overreacted in his state of anger and fell short of the composure, decorum and the standard expected of judges in the discharge of their judicial duties.
While noting that the court must decide every application before it on merit, Aguie said it was difficult to conclude that the prosecution was not ready to move its application for a stay of proceedings on the particular day it appeared in court.
Augie held that “a judge must have a sound basis for any judgment, as a judgment cannot be made in vague.”
Her position was unanimously adopted by Justices Samuel Oseji and Abimbola Obaseki-Adejumo of the same court.