Sunday, 1st October 2023

Supreme Court dismisses Amaechi’s appeal against N96b fraud probe

By Ameh Ochojila, Abuja
28 May 2022   |   3:05 am
The Supreme Court yesterday dismissed an appeal by a former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, seeking to stop his probe in an alleged N96 billion fraud.

Declares Peterside’s Appeal Against Odili’s N6b Defamation Suit Lacks Merit
• Upholds Judgment Quashing EFCC’s Case Against Justice Ngajiwa
• Wike, Amaechi React

The Supreme Court yesterday dismissed an appeal by a former Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, seeking to stop his probe in an alleged N96 billion fraud.

Justice Adamu Jauro, who led the seven-member panel of justices while delivering the judgment, dismissed the appeal for lacking in merit.

The apex court affirmed the judgments of the High Court of Rivers and the Court of Appeal, which had earlier dismissed the same suit for want of substance and merit.

The court also asked the former minister to pay the respondents N1 million.

Amaechi, a presidential aspirant on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), had approached the Supreme Court praying for an order of the court to prohibit his successor, Governor Nyesom Wike from investigating his eight-year tenure as the executive governor of Rivers State.

The former governor, represented by Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), said the probe was aimed at witch-hunting, embarrassing, humiliating and disgracing him in view of his political differences with his successor.

The probe is for Amaechi to give an account of how N96 billion was allegedly withdrawn from the treasury of the state government and how it was spent during his tenure.

Wike had instituted a Commission of Inquiry to look into the alleged sale of valuable assets of the state during Amaechi’s tenure.

The listed assets are Omoku Gas Turbine, Afam Gas Turbine, Trans Amadi Gas Turbine, Eleme Gas Turbine, Olympia Hotel and the award of contract for the execution of MonoRail Project.

In a related development, the Supreme Court yesterday dismissed the appeal filed by a former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Dakuku Peterside, in an N6 billion character defamation suit instituted against him by the former governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili.

Justice Adamu Jauro, while delivering the judgment, stated that Peterside’s appeal lacked merit.

On the last adjourned date, the lead counsel for Odili, Kanu Agabi (SAN), had urged the court to dismiss the appeal by Peterside and enter judgment in favour of his client.

Damian Okoro, counsel to Peterside, asked the apex court to allow the appeal and set aside the judgment of the Court of Appeal in the N6 billion defamation suit.

Odili had in October 2016 dragged Peterside to the Federal High court in Port Harcourt demanding N6 billion as damages for character defamation.

In the suit, the former Rivers State governor had claimed that Peterside during a press conference in Port Harcourt defamed him in his allegations that he hatched Governor Nyesom Wike’s Supreme Court victory.

This allegation was made on the fact that the wife of Peter Odili was a Justice of the Supreme Court.

Peterside had challenged the jurisdiction of the lower court, stating that the notice of the suit at the trial court, served on him, did not hold any water, but the court in its ruling held that it had jurisdiction.

Peterside then filed an appeal at the Appeal Court in Port Harcourt, challenging the decision of the lower court.

The appeal was however struck out, an action that prompted the appeal at the Supreme Court.

In a lead judgment prepared by Justice Amina Augie and read by Justice Adamu Jauro, the apex court dismissed the appeal and ordered that parties should bear their respective costs.

The substance of the matter is still pending at the Federal High Court, Port Harcourt.

In another development, the apex court yesterday upheld the judgment of the Court of Appeal, Lagos, which quashed the corruption charge against Justice Hyeladzira Ngajiwa of the Federal High Court on the grounds that he was a serving judge.

The Court of Appeal had in its judgment, held that under Section 158 of the Constitution, it is only the National Judicial Council (NJC) that has the power to deal with allegations of misconduct against a serving judge, and that such a judge could only be tried in the regular court after the recommendation of the NJC.

A seven-member panel of the Supreme Court upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal and dismissed the appeal by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

While reacting to the Supreme Court’s pronouncement on Ameachi, Wike stated that the elders of the state will decide whether to proceed with the results of the probe that indicted Rotimi Amaechi along with others now that the state’s rights to the probe have been okayed by the apex court.

“We have been vindicated that we are not vindictive,” he remarked. “Now that the court has issued its judgment, the state’s leaders will come out about their intentions for the investigation. If the leader wishes to prosecute, that is fine; all we ask for is justice.”

Wike went on to say that his party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), had raised concerns when Ameachi was nominated for the position of minister, but the government of the day ignored them and went ahead and confirm him.

On the basis of the investigative report, he said Ameachi may soon be charged to court if the state’s leaders so decide.

He stressed: “Let the world know that $50 million was diverted by Ameachi to a company during his administration. The Supreme Court’s decision was delivered on his birthday, so if today is his birthday, as I heard, it’s a fantastic birthday present for him.”

However, Amaechi in a statement by his Media Office, said the judgment of the apex court vindicated their boss.

The statement read: “Nigeria’s apex court today ruled on the Appeal filed by Rt. Hon. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi against the Rivers State Government on the Justice Omereji Judicial Commission of Inquiry.

“The Supreme Court in dismissing the Appeal however pronounced that the function of the Judicial Commission of Inquiry was mere investigative, that nobody, neither Amaechi nor anyone else, was on trial before the panel.

“The Supreme Court ruling clearly vindicates the former Governor of Rivers State. The apex court was categorical and clear that Amaechi was not on trial. The implication of this is that any indictment from the Commission is null and void and cannot stand. 

“With this judgment, Amaechi has been vindicated and cleared him of all purported or alleged indictment by the Governor Wike’s Commission. It has been further settled that the decisions/recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry and subsequent White Paper issued by the State Government are not a conviction or indictment and cannot stand.

“From the onset, it was obvious to any discerning mind that the Commission was set up to embarrass, denigrate and humiliate Amaechi.  The apex court judgment today, further buttressed this stance. A Commission purportedly set up to investigate past financial transactions was actually a Commission to personally witch-hunt Amaechi.”

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