UPDATED: Court Dismisses Diezani’s Application For Trial In Nigeria
A Federal High Court in Lagos on Wednesday dismissed an application by a former Petroleum Minister, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, seeking to join a criminal charge before the court.
Diezani had through her lawyer Mr Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN) filed the application which seek the court to compel the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) to list her as defendant in a N450 million fraud charge against a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Dele Belgore, and Professor Abubakar Suleiman, a former Minister of National Planning.
The former Petroleum Minister in the application also wanted a court order to compel the Attorney General of the Federation(AGF) to bring her back to Nigeria from the United Kingdom, to answer to the said charge.
During court proceedings on Monday, her lawyer Ikpeazu (SAN), had urged the court to grant his application for the applicant(Diezani) to be joined in the matter, in the sole interest of justice.
He argued that his client’s name was conspicuously mentioned in a four-count charge, and that there is no alteration to the fact that she has been charged.
Ikpeazu, had cited section 494(1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, (ACJA), adding that a defendant is any person against whom a complaint or charge is made, while a charge refers to an allegation that any named person has committed an offence.
He also argued that from count one to count four, the name of his client was mentioned as an accomplice, adding that it would be in the interest of justice to join her in the charge.
“We will have no objections if the applicant’s name is extracted from the charge, then, trial can proceed. Otherwise, she should be included in the charge. I know that she will be happy to come and face the trial,” he had told the court.
However, Belgore’s lawyer, Mr. E. O. Shofude (SAN) had raised objection to the application.
Shofunde had argued that Diezani was not a necessary party to the charge, since in the end, the court will only decides the guilt or innocence of the first and second accused who were charged.
According to him, it will be incongruous for any other party to seek an amendment of a criminal charge, adding that the court will not make an order in vain.
The EFCC’s prosecutor, Rotimi Oyedepo, aligned with the submission of the first defence counsel.
Citing the judicial authority of Ewenla Vs State, he noted that since trial has commenced, the state can only amend a charge for purposes of adding offences and not defendants.
Oyedepo submitted that if an amendment is allowed at this stage, it will occasion a miscarriage of justice.
According to him, several attempts were initially made to interrogate the applicant, but she fled to London after she got wind of the move by the commission, and has since then, carefully avoided any meeting with the EFCC.
According to him, it is misconceived and too late in the day, for the applicant to now seek to be joined in the charge when she is already under investigation in London.
He submitted that whenever the applicant returns to Nigeria, she can still be tried, as time does not run against the prosecution in criminal trial.
While giving his ruling on Wednesday, the trial judge Rilwan Aikawa, described Diezani’s application as being “misuse of court process and misconceived.”
“Section 276(1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, disagreed with the applicant’s counsel that the power to amend charge lived exclusively with the prosecution and not with any other person.
“I also disagreed with applicant that she is a necessary party in the charge. The only parties in the charge are the complaint, that Federal Republic of Nigeria and the two defendants. Naming the applicant in the charge does not make her a party to the charge in count one to four, the name of the applicant is just a statement,” Justice Aikawa ruled.
According to him, “This is a case of crying wolf when there was none. The two defendants in the charge can complain of fair hearing but not Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, who is not a party in the charge.”
“The action of the applicant is to avoid justice in the United Kingdom. On the whole, I found the application to be lacking in merit, and accordingly dismissed,”. he ruled.
The court had adjourned till 13 of November, for continuation of the main trial.