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Any objection to the validity of a charge and substantive issues will be considered at the time of delivery of judgment

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JEREMIAH v. F.R.N & ANOR (2018) LPELR-46050 (CA)
 
In the Court of Appeal
In the Ibadan Judicial Division
Holden at Ibadan
ON FRIDAY, 7TH DECEMBER, 2018
Suit No: CA/IB/326C/2017
 
Before Their Lordships:
 
NONYEREM OKORONKWO, JCA
ABUBAKAR MAHMUD TALBA, JCA
FOLASADE AYODEJI OJO, JCA
 
Between
 
ELIJAH JEREMIAH                                                           – Appellant                                                     

                                                                       
And
FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA                                              – Respondent
OBASA ISAIAH
                                               
LEAD JUDGMENT DELIVERED BY FOLASADE AYODEJI OJO, J.C.A.
FACTS OF THE CASE
This is an appeal against the ruling of the Oyo State High Court, sitting at Ibadan delivered on 26th May, 2017.The Appellant (Elijah Jeremiah) and the 2nd Respondent (Obasa Isaiah) were arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)  on multiple counts for the offences of conspiracy and forgery contrary to Sections 516 and 467 of the Criminal Code Law Cap C38, Laws of Oyo State of Nigeria, 2000. The Appellant and the 2nd Respondent pleaded not guilty to the charge and subsequently filed a notice of preliminary objection in which he urged the High Court to quash the charge against him.
x
  
The 1st Respondent (Federal Republic of Nigeria) opposed the application by filing a counter affidavit.  After taking arguments on both sides, the trial judge delivered a Ruling where the Court held as follows:
“In the course of his presentation to the Court, the prosecution referred and relied on Section 396(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 which provides that…
The wording of the provision of the law is in mandatory terms. It has made radical changes in the law. For example hitherto objection to charges was permitted under the Criminal Procedure Act repealed by the ACJA only before plea is taken. It is the duty of the Court to give effect to legislation such as Section 396 of the ACJA.  See the case of IDOWU ALASE VS. OLORI ILU (1964) 1 ALL NLR 390.  
  
Apart from this, I have carefully studied the case file and from its contents it may be difficult to determine the issues raised in the preliminary objection without touching on the substantive issues in this case.  For the foregoing reasons, I hereby defer my decision on the preliminary objections to the final judgment stage.”
Dissatisfied with the ruling, the Appellant has appealed to the Court of Appeal
 
ISSUES FOR DETERMINATION
The Court determined the appeal on the following issues:
1. Whether an issue of jurisdiction is not a threshold issue that the Court must first determine and resolve whenever it is raised before delving into the merit of the case.
2. Whether Section 396(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, (ACJA) 2015 is applicable and can be relied upon by the Courts where objection as to the substantive jurisdiction of courts is in issue and/or glaring on the face of statutory provisions that the Court lacks jurisdiction.
 
APPELLANT’S COUNSEL SUBMISSIONS ON ISSUES ONE AND TWO
 It was submitted in the Appellant’s brief of argument that the Appellant raised an issue of jurisdiction before the lower Court, which the law imposes a duty on it to first determine before proceeding further with the merit of the case.It was further submitted that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) being a creation of an Act is prohibited by the Act from investigating and prosecuting any other offences other than the offences the Act has given it powers to investigate under Section 6 and 7 of the Act. Counsel then submitted that the EFCC having wrongly commenced and preferred the charge against the Appellant under an alleged offence it has no statutory power to investigate let alone prosecute, robs the lower Court of the jurisdiction to entertain the charge.
  
On issue two, Counsel submitted that, the provision of Section 396(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) is not generally applicable in all cases as believed and relied on by the lower Court in that the Act itself made it clear in its marginal provision that the Section is applicable to the Time of raising certain objections.
  
He contended that that the objection at the lower Court against the filing of the charge by the EFCC is not as to the validity of the charge as contemplated by the Act but as to the substantive jurisdiction of the Court.  He submitted that Section 396(2) of the ACJA is inapplicable when substantive jurisdiction is the fulcrum of the objection. 
  
Counsel conceded that he is aware and appreciate that the intent of the draftsmen of Section 396(2) of the ACJA is to ensure speedy trial and curtail spurious objections that could halt or stall criminal trial.  He however opined that genuine issues of jurisdiction must be given special consideration so as not to slaughter justice at the altar of speedy trial.  He urged us to set aside the ruling of the lower Court, quash all charges against the Appellant and declare that the provision of Section 396(2) of ACJA is inapplicable when the substantive jurisdiction of the trial court is under contest.
 
RESPONDENT’S COUNSEL SUBMISSIONS
On his part, Counsel to the 1st Respondent argued that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has authority to investigate and prosecute the Appellant for the offences for which he was charged before the lower Court. He relied on the EFCC Act 2004, the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended and a plethora of decided authorities. He submitted that the provisions of Section 396(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 is mandatory and urged us to dismiss the Appellants appeal and affirm the ruling of the lower Court.
 
RESOLUTION OF ISSUES
In resolving the issues, the Court of Appeal after considering the ruling of the High Court stated that it is not in doubt that the Appellants main grouse in this appeal is the lower Courts decision to defer its decision on his preliminary objection till the time of delivery of judgment.
  
The Court considered the provisions of Section 396(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) which the trial Court relied on which provides as follows:
“After the plea has been taken, the defendant may raise any objection to the validity of the charge or the information at any time before judgment provided that any such objection shall only be considered along with the substantive issues and ruling thereon made at the time of delivery of judgment.”The Court of Appeal then held that, the words used in Section 396(2) of the ACJA establish that objections to the validity of a charge can be made after an accused person has taken his plea and at any time before judgment. 
x
  
The Court, however, held that the inquiry that is more pertinent to the present appeal is whether the lower Court is expected to rule on the preliminary objection raised in the course of the trial first or whether it can defer such ruling to the final judgment stage. Relying on the authorities in ONWUDIWE VS. FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA (2006) LPELR-2715 (SC); (2006) 10 NWLR Pt. 988 Pg. 382 on the position of the law on the issue of jurisdiction, the definition of jurisdiction as stated in OLUSEGUN EGUNJOBI VS. FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA (2012) LPELR 15537 (SC), and, upon considering the Appellants Notice of Preliminary Objection and the accompanying processes before the lower Court, held that his complaint in the main is that the EFCC lacks the authority under the law creating it to investigate, file a charge and prosecute him in respect of the offences for which he has been charged. That it follows therefore that the Appellants objection is against the competence and validity of the charge against him. 

It was therefore held by the Court that Section 396(2) of the ACJA for all intents and purposes applies to the instant case as it does to cases where the validity of the charge or the jurisdiction of the Court is challenged.On the Appellants Counsel submission that the lower Courts decision to apply Section 396(2) of ACJA to this case is against the established principle of law that requires an issue of jurisdiction to be first determined before any other matter.
  
The Court of Appeal relied on the ruling of the Supreme Court in the very recent case of DESTRA INVESTMENTS LTD.  VS. FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA & ANOR. (2018) LPELR-43883(SC) ; (2018) 8 NWLR (Pt. 1621) 335 where the Apex Court held that the Court of Appeal was right in upholding the ruling of the trial Court to the effect that the Appellants Preliminary Objection to the jurisdiction of the trial Court will be reserved and considered along with the substantive issues and ruling delivered at the time of delivery of the judgment.
  
It was emphasized that the ACJA was made for a purpose. Its purpose includes amongst others to ensure speedy dispensation of justice.  See Section 1(1) of the ACJA 2015.  The purpose of that law can only be achieved if Courts give full effect to its provisions. The Court therefore, concluded that Section 396(2) of the Act makes specific provision to the effect that any objection to the validity of the charge shall only be considered along with substantive issues and a ruling thereon given at the time of the delivery of the judgment.  
 
HELD 
On the whole and having resolved issues 1 and 2 against the Appellant, the Court reached the conclusion that the appeal lacks merit. It was accordingly dismissed. The case was remitted to the lower Court for a speedy completion of the substantive case.
 
Appearances:
 
Sunday Ikeh Esq.                                                                                             – For Appellant                                                                     
S. M. H. Ibekwute Esq .                                                                    – For 1st Respondent
Compiled by LawPavilion

 


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