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Court voids power of Obono-Obla’s panel to prosecute, seize property


Mr Okoi Obono-Obla, Chairman, Special Presidential Investigation Panel on the Recovery of Public Property

The Court of Appeal, Abuja, yesterday held that the Chief Okoi Obono-Obla-led Presidential Panel on Assets Recovery lacked power to prosecute and, as such, cannot initiate criminal proceedings against any accused person.

It also held that the panel lacked the power to seize property of alleged offenders.The judgement followed an appeal filed by a staff of the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, Tijani Tumsah, through his counsel, Kehinde Ogunwumiju (SAN).

The panel had approached the High Court and obtained an order to seize the properties of the Tumsah brothers, Tijani and Ibrahim.Not satisfied, the former had gone to the appellate court, challenging the prosecutorial power of the panel.

Aside the Tumsah brothers, the panel had also filed a charge against the deputy senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, Senators Hope Uzodinma and Stella Oduah. The five-man panel of the court led by Justice Hussein Muhktar, in a unanimous judgement delivered at past 6pm, held that the panel, according to the Act that established it, lacked power to prosecute any offender.

The court maintained that the powers of the panel were limited to investigation.In the appeal, Ogunwumiju had asked the court to determine whether the suit culminating in the forfeiture order against him was validly instituted by the panel before the court.

The appellant also asked the court to determine whether or not the panel could validly rely on the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Act to obtain the freezing order granted by the lower court on December 6, 2017.Also, the appellant asked the court to determine whether or not the lower court was right when it refused to set aside its interim freezing order of December 6, 2016.

The court resolved all the three issues in favour of the appellant.It held that nothing in the Recovery of Public Property Act Cap R 4, LFN 2004 empowers the panel to initiate court proceedings pursuant to its investigative powers for the purpose of obtaining an interim order for forfeiture of property.

“The panel cannot clothe itself with the cloth not given to it by the Act that established it. It cannot take over the responsibilities of EFCC.“The power to investigate and prosecute is solely for the EFCC and such cannot be taken over by any person or agency.“The provision of the Act is unambiguous and not confusing. The power of the panel is to conduct investigation on any officer who has corruptly enriched himself of breached the code of conduct.

“No power or authority is conferred on the panel to prosecute offenders.“The ex-parte order granted by the lower court as regards the properties of the appellant is hereby set aside.“The court below lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the matter, let alone enter judgement,” the court held.

The court held that suit instituted against the appellants at the lower court was not properly instituted and that the lower court was wrong for failing to set aside its forfeiture order.

Earlier, Justice Muhktar had explained why the judgement was delivered late in the day.According to him, the judgement was earlier scheduled for today, but the panel got the hint that a nationwide strike might begin, hence the need to deliver the judgement yesterday evening.

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Okoi Obono Obla
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