The Federal Government has filed fresh criminal charges against the Deputy Senate President, Dr. Ike Ekweremadu, and the Senator representing Akwa Ibom North East, Albert Bassey Akpan, following alleged failure to declare their assets.
In the two sets of charges it lodged before Abuja Division of the Federal High Court, the federal government alleged that the two lawmakers refused to declare their assets in a manner prescribed by the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property.
Both Ekweremadu and Akpan were slammed with two-count criminal allegations in separate charges marked FHC/ABJ/CR/62/2018 and FHC/ABJ/CR/88/2018, which were okayed by Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice.
Meanwhile, trial Justice John Tsoho Wednesday gave FG the nod to serve the charge on the Defendants through substituted means.
Justice Tsoho made the order after he heard an ex-parte motion moved by government lawyer, Dr. Celsus Ukpong.
The court directed that copies of the two charges should be served on Ekweremadu and Akpan through the Clerk of the National Assembly.
While it fixed October 22 for Ekweremadu to enter his plea to the charge against him, dated May 10, 2018, government was permitted to dock Senator Akpan on November 7.
Justice Tsoho, however, rejected federal government’s prayer to be allowed to temporarily confiscate some of the properties linked to the Defendants, pending the investigation of allegation against them “bordering on false allegation of asset, and diversion of public funds, conspiracy, abuse of office and possession of wealth far beyond their legitimate incomes as public officers or suspicious asset”.
The application for interim forfeiture of assets of the lawmakers was anchored on section 2 of the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provision) Act, section 251 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, as well as the Presidential Executive Order 6 of 2018.
In an affidavit deposed to by one Mohammed Abdullahi, a senior police officer attached to the Special Presidential Investigation Panel, the federal government told the court that the lawmakers have been evading service of the charge on them.
“That the investigators in this matter have been trying to get across to the Defendant who is a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, without success”, the deponent averred.
FG equally alleged that the Defendants ignored several invitations extended for them to “clarify issues in the allegation of excessive wealth or suspicious assets” which it said “cannot be justified or explained” by their legitimate income.
The two sets of charges contained similar wordings, except for the substitution of the names of the Defendants and the fact that while Ekweremadu was alleged to have declined to declare his assets on March 28, Akpan was said to have commited the same offence on April 12.
Specifically, the two-count charge against Ekweremadu read: “That you, Ike Ekweremadu ‘M’ on or about 28th day of March, 2018, being a public officer with the National Assembly Abuja within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, committed an offence to wit: refuse to declare your assets without reasonable excuse and upon the notice to declare your assets in the manner prescribed by the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property contrary and punishable under section 3 (3)[1)a of the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provisions) Act 2004.
“That you, Ike Ekweremadu ‘M’ on or about 28th day of March, 2018 being a public officer with the National Assembly Abuja within the jurisdiction of this court, committed an offence to wit: neglect to declare your assets without reasonable excuse and upon the notice to declare your assets in the manner prescribed by the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property contrary and punishable under Section 3 (3)(1)a of the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provisions) Act 2.0014”.
It will be recalled that Ekweremadu had previously challenged the powers of the high to grant interim ownership of his 22 properties to FG.
Ekweremadu, via a motion he filed through his lead counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, maintained that under the 1999 Constitution, as amended, the court, lacked the jurisdiction to entertain and exercise judicial powers in matter related to, connected with and arising from the Code of Conduct and Declaration of Assets.
FG had in an ex-parte motion marked FHC/ABJ/CS/284/2018, applied for an interim order temporarily attaching/forfeiting Ekweremadu’s properties to it, pending the conclusion of further inquiry/investigation by the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property and/or possible arraignment of the Respondent.
Nine of the properties FG asked the court to freeze because they were not declared by the embattled lawmaker are in Abuja; two of them in London, the United Kingdom; eight in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates; and three in Florida, the United States.
FG predicated the motion on section 330 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, section 8 of the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provisions) Act, section 44 (2) (K) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
However, Ekweremadu, in his counter-motion, told the court that the Chief Okoi Obono-Oblah led Special Presidential Investigation Panel that is moving to seize his properties for the government “is an illegal body”, saying it was not created under any law made by the National Assembly.
According to him, “The so called Special Panel was never gazetted in any publication in the Federal Government of Nigeria Gazette. The President and Commander-in-Chief never inaugurated any panel anytime and anywhere in Nigeria”.
He contended that the Panel lacked the locus standi, competence and legal vires to receive complaints, investigate and initiate legal proceedings in matters connected with assets he declared to the Code of Conduct Bureau in 2007 and 2015.
“My Lord, we submit that the constitution has already provided for the body to undertake this investigation and prosecution of offences related to and connected with asset declaration. It has done so and we are therefore bound to observe it under the doctrine of covering the field.
“This sole panel has no power to receive complaints, investigate and initiate criminal proceedings against the respondent concerning issues of Assets by a public officer.
“We submit that the Federal High Court is a special court with limited jurisdiction as contained in Section 251 of the 1999 Constitution.
“Violating the Code of Conduct for Public Officers is not one of the matters in respect of which jurisdiction has been conferred on the Federal High Court under Section 251 of the Constitution.
“We urge the Court to dismiss the Ex-parte application filed in the name of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”, the embattled Deputy Senate President argued.
While refuting allegation that he did not declare all his assets, Ekweremadu, in a nine paragraphed affidavit deposed to by one John Amoke, alleged that contents of a Will he lodged at the Probate Registry of the High Court of Justice of Enugu State, was tampered with and unlawfully altered by retired Chief Judge of the state, Justice Innocent Azubike Umezulike.
He said the Obono-Oblah led Panel never notified him of its investigation of petition the retired CJ filed against him based on his distorted Will, saying he was never at any time, queried by the CCB concerning any discrepancy in assets he declared before it.
Assets FG wanted the court to freeze over Ekweremadu’s alleged failure to declare them, are located at No. 11, Evans Enwerem Street, Apo Legislative Quarters, Apo, Abuja, Plot 2633 Kyami, Abuja, Housing Estate (Plot 1106 CRD, Cadastral Zone 07-07, Lugbe, Abuja, Plot 2782 Asokoro Extension, Abuja, Houses at Citi Park Estate, Gwagwalada, Abuja, Plot 1474 Cadastral Zone BD6, Mabushi, Abuja, Congress Court, Abuja, Flat 1, Block D25, Athletics Street, (24th Street) Games Village, Abuja and Plot 66, 64 Crescent, Gwarimpa Estate, Abuja.
Those in London are Flat 4 Varsity Court, Harmer Street, WIH 4NW, London, 52 Ayleston Avenue, NW6 7AB, London.
Other properties in Dubai and USA are; Room 1903, The Address Hotel, Downtown Dubai, The Address Boulevard, 3901, Dubai, 2 Flats of Burij Side Boulevard (the signature), Dubai, Emirate Gardens Apartment No. EGG1/1/114, Dubai, Emirate Gardens Apartment No. EGG1/115, Dubai, Apartment No. DFB/12/B 1204, Park Towers, Dubai, Flat 3604, MAG214, Dubai and Villa No 148, Maeen 1, The Lakes Emirates Hills, Dubai.
As well as 4507 Stella Street, Bellavida Estate Kissime, Florida, USA, 2747 Club Cortile Circle, Kissime, Florida, USA and 2763 Club Cortile Circle, Kissime, Florida, USA.
Asset Declaration: Charges Laughable and Malicious- Ekweremadu
Meanwhile, Senator Ekweremadu described the suit filed against him by the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation on behalf of the SPIP for refusal to declare his assets to the Panel contrary to the provisions of the Constitution as laughable and malicious.
He said: “Let me re-affirm to Nigerians and my supporters that I have no assets declaration case to answer. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria requires pubic office holders to declare their assets every four years, a requirement which I fulfilled. The Panel requested and obtained copies of my Assets Declaration Form from the Code of Conduct Bureau where everything is stated in black and white.
“For emphasis, all my assets were fully and comprehensively declared to the Code of Conduct Bureau.
“What is at issue here is that the SPIP had forwarded fresh assets declaration forms to me to fill contrary to the position of the 1999 Constitution, a demand I refused to oblige because it is clearly unconstitutional. It is this refusal to disobey the Constitution that that I am now being charged for.
“I am aware that the Chairman of that Panel wrote the same letter to some serving Honourable Judges of the Federal High Court, who also declined to fill them. One of such letters to a serving Judge dated October 9, 2017 was signed by Mr. M. Sulaiman, on behalf of Obono-Obla, Chairman of the Panel.
“I am also aware that the affected Judges petitioned the Minister of Justice and Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Mallam Abubakar Malami, who immediately withdrew the provocative letters and fresh asset declaration forms with apologies vide a letter dated November 1, 2017 and signed by the Solicitor-General of the Federation.
“I am further aware that the Office of the AGF had also intervened in a similar case involving the Obla Panel at the Federal High Court, Lagos and I believe all these culminated in Obono-Obla’s suspension in November 2017 before his recall.
“It is, therefore, left to Nigerians to see the politics of the so-called charges in my case. The Office of the AGF should not allow itself to be used in filing malevolent and unconstitutional charges that destroy our democracy and make mockery of our judicial system.
“I expect the Attorney-General to channel his energy to prosecuting Obono-Obla over his established case of forgery of his Senior School Certificate result instead of this politically-motivated prosecution and smear campaign.
“My position is that the Public Property Special Provisions Act, CAP R4 LFN, 2004, otherwise known as Decree No 3, 1984, which Obono-Obla has relied on to charge public officials to court had become obsolete and vested in the Code of Conduct Bureau by the 1999 Constitution. Only the Code of Conduct Bureau can receive asset declaration from public officers.
“It is obvious that this is part of the desperate and panic measures to cripple the opposition ahead of the 2019 general elections. Every opposition candidate and leader should, therefore, be ready for such smear campaigns and onslaughts, but rest assured, however, that they would ultimately triumph where their hands are clean.
“I insist my hands are clean. Anybody, who knows any undeclared assets of mine, should feel free to avail the public of such information.
“Nigerians and the international community should, therefore, disregard this latest campaign of calumny and witch-hunt”.