by Hauwa Gambo
It was difficult enough for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to get him to court, since he had delayed trial by fleeing the country, and now it has proven even more difficult for them to put him behind bars.
Earlier today, the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos dismissed the corruption charges filed by the EFCC against the pastor, media entrepreneur and former chief executive officer of Intercontinental Bank, Erastus Akingbola for lack of diligent prosecution.
In his ruling, Justice Charles Archibong discharged Akingbola from all the charges and directed the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Mohammed Adoke to disband the prosecuting team led by five Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN). The team had been brought together following a 2009 bailout of five banks by the Sanusi Lamido Sanusi-led Central Bank of Nigeria that put behind bars banking royalty—including former Oceanic Bank CEO, Cecilia Ibru and former Bank PHB CEO, Francis Atuche.
The judge got very annoyed after he directed that an amended charge be read to the former bank chief and rejected his objection to the newly amended counts—25 in all—filed by the EFCC against him in December of 2010. However, the commission’s counsel, Godwin Obla said he was not prepared for trial and made a request for stay of further proceedings.
The judge was having none of this. “I direct the AGF to disband, sack and debrief the present prosecution team of five SANs and their respective firm for being incompetent in the prosecution of the charges against the accused before this court,” he declared. “I direct the AGF to disband the team for serious abuse of process. They are a drain in the public purse, a fact the AGF should be mindful of now if he was not before. This prosecution team have chosen to pursue a campaign to scandalise the court. This amounts to serious and professional incompetent on the prosecution of the accused.
“This prosecution team or any part of it shall not be given any further audience in this court in relation to the charges against this accused either before this presiding judge or any other judge of the Federal High Court for the reason I have given in the foregoing.
“Furthermore, I take judicial notice that the accused is presently facing charges before the Lagos High Court emanating from his tenure as Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Intercontinental Bank Plc, the AGF may wish to regain control of this process. This he can of course do at anytime of his choice.
“Meanwhile, the prosecution team presently employed indulged in their professional incompetence to the extreme, had been unmindful of the accused rights for him to have the case against him clearly stated. They have been dismissive of his right to speedy trial which in reality should be a credible procedure. Not to indulge in this extended campaign against the presiding judge, I therefore dismiss the charges amended or otherwise.”
The Honourable Justice didn’t hide his disdain for the five SANs involved in the case’s prosecution. “This enrol order and the record of proceedings will be served on the AGF and the prosecution team. I will be referring the conduct of the SANs who led this prosecution team to the Ethics and Priviledges Committee for further consideration and determination of the issue,” he promised.
Intercontinental Bank is now part of Access Bank.