EFCC arraigns serving Judge for unlawful enrichment
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) yesterday arraigned a serving Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa, before an Igbosere High Court, Lagos, for allegedly and unlawfully enrichment of himself to the tune of $260,000 and N8, 650,000.
His arraignment followed the dismissal of a preliminary objection he filed to challenge the jurisdiction of the court to try him.
Justice Nganjiwa, attached to the Bayelsa State Division of the Federal High Court, was arraigned on 14-count charge.
His Counsel, Chief Robert Clarke (SAN), had contended that by virtue of Section 158 of the 1999 Constitution, only the National Judicial Council (NJC) had the power to deal with the kind of allegations brought against him by the EFCC.
But Counsel for the EFCC, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, had in opposition, contended that despite being a serving Judge, Justice Nganjiwa had no immunity from criminal prosecution.
Oyedepo stressed that Section 308 of the constitution, which specified government officials who had immunity as the President, Vice President and state governors, did not include a serving Judge.
He also argued that though Section 158 of the constitution vested the NJC with administrative power to discipline an erring judicial for misconduct, the NJC did not have the power to look into criminal allegations against Judges.
He urged the court to dismiss the preliminary objection and order Justice Nganjiwa to proceed into the dock for his arraignment.
However, the presiding Judge, Justice A.A. Akintoye, upheld Oyedepo’s argument and dismissed Justice Nganjiwa’s preliminary objection.
He ruled: “This court, having been properly constituted, has the power to try this case. The notice of preliminary objection, I hold, is therefore, misconceived and same is hereby dismissed.”
After the ruling, the charges were read to Justice Nganjiwa, but he pleaded not guilty to all the 14 counts.
He is accused of unlawfully enriching himself, as a public official, by allegedly receiving a total of $260,000 and N8.65m through his bank account between 2013 and 2015, the source(s) of which he could not explain, contrary to Section 82(a) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, No. 11, 2011.
Justice Nganjiwa was also accused of giving false information to operatives of the EFCC, which, the prosecution said, amounted to an offence under Section 39(2) of the EFCC (Establishment) Act, 2014.
But the accused Judge denied all the allegations.
Following the arraignment, Clarke urged Justice Akintoye to admit his client to bail on self-recognisance, being a serving Judge.
But Oyedepo pleaded with the court not to grant Justice Nganjiwa bail on self-recognisance, but to impose “serious conditions” that would compel his appearance in court for his trial.
“We know what we went through before we got here. In view of the claim by the defendant that he is a Judge, what should be paramount is the expeditious trial of this case, so that he can know his fate,” Oyedepo argued.
Justice Akintoye said she was inclined to grant Justice Nganjiwa bail on self-recognisance, in view of his status as a serving Judge.
She, however, directed the accused Judge to deposit his passport in the custody of the Chief Registrar of the Lagos State High Court within seven days or that the EFCC should deposit same if the passport was still in its custody.
Justice Akintoye stressed that Justice Nganjiwa must make himself available in court throughout the entire length of his trial.
She adjourned till October 6 and 10, this year, for commencement of trial.
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