Thursday, October 21, 2010

Court Frees el-Rufai, Declines Jurisdiction

For lack of jurisdiction, a Federal High Court in Abuja yesterday quashed the eight-count charge of abuse of office filed against a former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Nasir Ahmad el-Rufai, and two others.

He was consequently discharged alongside the two others charged with him.
But the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has said it would file fresh charges tomorrow.
Justice Adamu Bello said his court lacked the jurisdiction to try them, ruling that the offences with which el-Rufai was charged were under the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) and as such were triable only at the Abuja High Court.

The other accused persons charged with el-Rufai are Altine Jubrin and Iro Ismaila who served as public officers under him.
EFCC had dragged el-Rufai and the two others before Justice Bello accusing them of fraudulently revoking Federal Government’s plots of land in Abuja and allocating the land to the two wives of el-Rufai - Hadiza and Asia - his friends and associates when he was in office.
He was alleged to have committed the offences under Section 19 and punishable under Section 26 of the ICPC Act 2000.
After pleading not guilty to the charges, el-Rufai filed an objection in which he asked the court to quash them for want of jurisdiction.

The objection was argued on his behalf by Chief Akinlolu Olujinmi (SAN).
He contended that the court was incompetent to try him, urging the judge to decline the bid by EFCC to prosecute him on the ground that the federal high court had no jurisdiction to hear the criminal suit brought before him for trial.
He said that the ICPC Act of 2000 under which he was charged was no longer in existence and told the judge that there was no charge before his court for adjudication since the repealed ICPC Act was not in existence in the eyes of the law.
Even if the Act was in place, el-Rufai maintained, any offence under it could only be legally prosecuted by a high court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and not in any Federal High Court.

The former minister insisted that EFCC was in a wrong court because the federal high court had no jurisdiction.
He asked the court not to dissipate energy on the charges but to strike them out completely for having no jurisdiction.
The submissions of Olujinmi were adopted by Chief Godwin Kanu Agabi (SAN) and Chief Udom Akpan who stood for the second and third accused persons respectively.

EFCC's lawyer, Alhaji Adebayo Adelodun (SAN), however opposed el-Rufai’s objection on the ground that it was raised too late.
Adelodun said that he ought to have raised the objection before his plea was taken.
He submitted that the appropriate time for an accused to raise objection to a trial on account of defect in charges was when the charges were being read to such accused person.
Adelodun submitted that el-Rufai took his plea in May 12 without any objection, adding that “it is too late in the day for any objection now”.

Besides, the EFCC counsel said sections 19 and 26(2) and 61(3) of the repealed ICPC Act 2000 under which el-Rufai was charged was retained in the ICPC Act 2003 under section 21 of the new Act.
He therefore asked Justice Bello to dismiss the objection for being “frivolous, baseless and without merit” and urged the court to assume jurisdiction.

However, the court rejected the argument of the EFCC's counsel and upheld that of el- Rufai.
Count one of the charge against el-Rufai reads: “That you Mallam Nasir Ahmed el-Rufai between December 13, 2003 and December 14, 2007 or thereabouts at the Ministry of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja in the course of and/or in the performance of your official duties as the minister of the Federal Capital Territory did use your said office and position to gratify and confer corrupt or unfair advantage on your relation to wit: your wife – Hadiza Ahmed el-Rufai by allocating to her parts of land known as plot No 1209, Asokoro District, Abuja, originally allocated in the Federal Capital Territory District Master Plan to Power Holding Company of Nigeria Plc for construction of transmitting/injection sub-stations which allocation you had wrongly and or intentionally revoked for that purpose, thereby committing an offence contrary to and punishable under Section 19 of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act, 2000.”

Count two: “That you Mallam Nasir Ahmed el-Rufai between December 13, 2003 and December 14, 2007 or thereabouts at the Ministry of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja in the course of and/or in the performance of your official duties as the minister of the Federal Capital Territory did use your said office and position to gratify and confer corrupt or unfair advantage on your relation to wit: your wife – Hadiza Ahmed el-Rufai by allocating to her parts of land known as plot No 1201, Asokoro District, Abuja, originally allocated in the Federal Capital Territory District Master Plan to Power Holding Company of Nigeria Plc for construction of transmitting/ injection sub-stations which allocation you had wrongly and or intentionally revoked for that purpose, thereby committing an offence contrary to and punishable under Section 19 of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act, 2000.”

Count three: “That you Mallam Nasir Ahmed el-Rufai between December 13, 2003 and December 14, 2007 or thereabouts at the Ministry of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja in the course of and/or in the performance of your official duties as the minister of the Federal Capital Territory did use your said office and position to gratify and confer corrupt or unfair advantage on your associates to wit: M Oil Limited, Philip Daudu, Saidu Samaila, Iyabo-Obasanjo-Bello, Jamaila Alhassan and Bello Sani by reallocating to them parts of the parcel of land known as plot N0 1201, Asokoro District (A4), Abuja originally allocated in the Federal Capital Territory District Master Plan to Power Holding Company of Nigeria Plc for construction of transmitting/injection sub-stations which allocation you had wrongly and or intentionally revoked for that purpose, thereby committing an offence contrary to and punishable under Section 19 of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act, 2000.”

Meanwhile, EFCC yesterday said it had prepared fresh charges against el-Rufai to be filed at an FCT High Court tomorrow.
The anti-graft agency disclosed this in a swift response to a ruling of a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja.
The EFCC had earlier investigated a petition chronicling allegations of abuse of office against el-Rufai on how he allocated government lands to his friends, wives and family members, in flagrant breach of the Abuja master plan.
According to the petition, the former minister between 2003 and 2007, allocated 10 plots of land in choice areas of Abuja and in various sizes to his family members, including his wife, Hadiza, who got two plots, one in the Asokoro District and the other in the Kubwa District.

The EFCC said it would not be deterred by the court ruling but would go ahead with fresh charges and prove its case against the former minister.
El-Rufai has denied all allegations, alleging that they were politically motivated.