The 23 officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission accused of receiving bribe from Rivers State Governor Nyesom Wike during legislative re-run election in the state have applied for transfer of the case to Port Harcourt Rivers State or in the alternative dismiss the case against them.
The accused persons through their lawyers on Friday argued in their applications that the alleged offence happened in Rivers State and that it is not financially possible for them to come from different locations to Abuja for the trial.
In their applications they also challenged the territorial jurisdiction of the court to entertain the case.
Defence lawyers also asked the court to dismiss the case on the grounds that it was not properly filed before the court.
The INEC officials were arraigned for allegedly receiving N360m from Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers during the December 10, 2016, re-rerun election in the state .
The accused were to enter their plea on March 14 to a seven-count charge bordering on bribery.
Counsel to the 1st to 20th defendants, Ahmed Raji, had in the last sitting, informed the court of the application he filed, questioning the territorial jurisdiction of the court in the matter.
The other defence counsel, Ukpan Ukairo and Mr E. A. Nwauwa, also filed an application challenging the court’s jurisdiction.
Raji observed that the exhibits of the complainant attached to the counter affidavit of the police were deposed to by one Numa Ganawo Wande, a litigation officer in the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation.
He said the exhibits, marked annexures A, B, C and D, were mere photographs of dead police officers and weapons.
Raji argued that in accordance with the provisions of Section 84 of the Evidence Act, the exhibits were “inadmissible in law”.
He insisted that a litigation officer in the AGF’s office “is not in a better position to depose to what transpired in Port-Harcourt.
“He is here in Maitama and is deposing to an affidavit on events that happened in Port-Harcourt.
“My Lord, allowing this will amount to setting a dangerous precedent whereby pictures of alleged crimes will be gathered from different parts of the country and used by the complainant for prosecution”, he said.
He also said the complainant had not placed any evidence in court that there was a state of insecurity in Port Harcourt to warrant the trial of the defendants over there.
Raji, therefore, urged the court to strike out the matter or transfer it to Port Harcourt for the defendants’ arraignment.
Ukairo and Nwauwa, who aligned themselves with Raji’s motion, said their application was also on the question of the court’s jurisdiction in the matter.
They said since the offence was committed in Port Harcourt, it would be better for the case to be transferred to High Court in Port Harcourt or the matter be struck out by the court.
The prosecution counsel, Aliyu Alilu, opposed the applications of the defence team.
He described the application of Raji challenging the validity of the counter affidavit deposed to by the litigation office in the office of the AGF as a “misconception.”
“The deponent, Wande, got briefing from Deputy Commissioner of Police, Dan Okoro, who headed the IGPs special investigation team.
“I, therefore, urge the court to dismiss the application made by the 1st to 20th defendants for lack of merit.
“As for the application of the 21st to 23rd defendants, we got their application this morning but we shall be replying on point of law to avoid further delay in this matter”, Alilu said.
He maintained that insecurity in Rivers State will not guarantee a fair trial of the suspects, urging the court to dismiss the applications for lack of merit.
After listening to arguments from both sides in the suit on whether to try the defendants in the Abuja division of Federal High Court or Port Harcourt division, Justice John Tsoho adjourned till May 12 to rule on the applications.