A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Thursday declined to order the arrest of the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu over his alleged refusal to declare his assets before the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPIPRP).
Justice Nyako declined to issue the order on the grounds that Ekweremadu is already challenging the jurisdiction of the court and the competency of the charge brought against him.
In a short ruling the judge held that it was not necessity to issue a bench warrant against Ekweremadu because the respondent has already challenged the competence and jurisdiction of the high court.
The Chief Okoi Obono-Obla led committee had through its counsel, Celsius Ukpong, applied to the judge to issue bench warrant for the arrest of Ekweremadu to compel his attendance in court to defend the charges of non-declaration of assets brought against him.
The counsel told the judge that Ekweremadu ought to be in court physically on Thursday in connection with the criminal charges filed against him earlier in May.
He submitted that Ekweremadu decided on his own not to obey the court summon in spite of the fact that he was duly served with the charge as required by law.
But counsel to Ekweremadu, Chief Solomon Awomolo (SAN), objected to the request for bench warrant on the grounds that the Senator had on November 1, filed an application challenging the jurisdiction of the court to hear the charge against him, and also the validity of the charge itself.
The counsel submitted that appearance of Ekweremadu in court was not necessary until the issues of jurisdiction and competency of the charge have been resolved by the court.
He added that it would be more honourable for the Presidential Panel to withdraw the charge against his client in view of the recent Court of Appeal judgment which held that the panel lacks the powers to prosecute alleged offenders.
Awomolo, accordingly tendered a copy of the judgment to the court emphasising that the appellate court had made it clear in the judgment that the panel, which filed the criminal charge against Ekweremadu, has no prosecutorial power under the law to prosecute any accused person.
Awomolo therefore urged the court to discountenance the arguments of the complainant.
In a short ruling the judge upheld the submissions of the defendant.
Subsequently, the court adjourned till February 26, 2019, for hearing of the objection filed by Ekweremadu against the court’s jurisdiction and the competence of the charge against him.
The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, had on Monday held that Obono-Obla-led panel lacked prosecutorial power and hence cannot initiate criminal proceedings against any accused person.
The appeal was filed by a staff of the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, Tijani Tumsah.
The panel had approached the High Court and obtained an order forfeiting his properties alongside that of his brother, Ibrahim Tumsah, the Director of Finance and Accounts in the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing.
Not satisfied with the situation, Tijani approached the appellate court, challenging the prosecutorial power of the panel.
But in a unanimous judgment, the five-man panel of the Court of Appeal, led by Justice Hussein Muhktar, held that going through the Act establishing the panel, it was discovered that it lacked power to prosecute any offender.
The appellate court further held that the powers of the panel is only limited to investigation and never extended to prosecution.