By Yemi Oyeyemi, Abuja
Justice Yusuf Halilu of a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) has discharged Senator Rochas Anayo Okorocha from corruption charges filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission ((EFCC).
This is the third time, Okorocha has been freed by courts in respect of alleged fraud and corruption said to have been committed while he was the Governor of Imo State between 2011-2019.
Justice Halilu on Friday freed the former governor from the charge after dismissing the charges filed by the anti-graft agency for being an abuse of court processes.
According to the court it was wrong for the EFCC to continue to file similar charges against a defendant in different courts, particularly when a court of competent jurisdiction had already decided on the matter.
It will be recalledl that Justice Stephen Pam, of a Federal High Court in Port Harcourt, had in a judgment in 2021, quashed the EFCC’s charge against Okorocha after it declared as illegal, unlawful, null and void the investigation upon which the charge was based on.
The judge subsequently made an order prohibiting the EFCC from further prosecuting the former governor over any alleged offence relating to the said investigation.
However, the Commission had on May 24, 2022 arrested Okorocha after over six hours of siege at his Abuja residence, and subsequently arraigned him and six others before the Federal High Court in Abuja.
They were alleged to have embezzled the sum of N2.9 billion belonging to the Government of Imo State.
However, Justice Inyang Ekwo, in a ruling delivered on February 6, struck out the charges for contravening section 105 (3) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015, which gives the Attorney-General of the Federation the power to recall a case.
Justice Ekwo held that the directive of the AGF in a letter dated September 12, 2022, to the EFCC to forward the case file with its comments on the issues for consideration and review, was binding on the commission.
The court agreed with Senator Okorocha that the earlier judgment of a court of coordinate jurisdiction sitting in Port Harcourt in suit number: FHC/PH/FHR/165, between him and EFCC, restraining the agency from further proceeding on the alleged offence subsists.
Dissatisfied, the Commission approached a High Court of the FCT, and filed another set of charges against the former governor.
But Okorocha through his lawyer Chief Ola Olanipekun, SAN, in an application challenged the competency of the charge, claiming it was an abuse of court processes.
Delivering ruling in the application on Friday, Justice Halilu, held that it was wrong for the EFCC to bring a suit which has already been decided by a court of coordinate jurisdiction, especially when there was an order of court restraining the anti-graft agency from prosecuting Okorocha over the outcome of an investigation which has been nullified by the court.
The judge noted that there is nothing more that described court abuse than the action of the Commission by going ahead to file same suit in three different courts.
Justice Halilu while noting that the agency by law is conferred with wide range of investigatory and prosecutorial powers, maintained that the Commission must learn to operate within the law, adding that the EFCC being e creation of law must be a respecter of the law.
The court noted that evidence before it showed that a Federal High Court had in 2021 freed Okorocha from fraud and corruption charges brought against him by the EFCC.
He noted that while the Commission did the right thing by appealing the judgment, it ought not to have approached another court of coordinate jurisdiction to file a similar charge against Okorocha.
While warning that nobody or agency is above the law, the court advised the anti-graft agency to accept that there must be an end to litigation.
“Once a case of abuse of court processes is established, the best thing to do is to dismiss the charge; the first defendant is hereby discharged”, the court held.