The Deputy Senate President, Mr. Ike Ekweremadu, on Tuesday, challenged the powers of the Federal High Court in Abuja to grant interim ownership of his 22 properties to the Federal Government.
Ekweremadu, via a motion he filed through his lead counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, maintained that under the 1999 Constitution, as amended, the high court, lacked the jurisdiction to entertain and exercise judicial powers in matter related to, connected with and arising from the Code of Conduct and Declaration of Assets.
It will be recalled that FG had in an ex-parte motion marked FHC/ABJ/CS/284/2018, applied for an interim order temporarily attaching/forfeiting Ekweremadu’s properties to it, pending the conclusion of further inquiry/investigation by the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property and/or possible arraignment of the Respondent.
Nine of the properties FG asked the court to freeze because they were not declared by the embattled lawmaker, are in Abuja; two of them in London, the United Kingdom; eight in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates; and three in Florida, the United States.
FG predicated the motion on section 330 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, section 8 of the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provisions) Act, section 44 (2) (K) of the 1999 Constitution, as amended.
However, Ekweremadu, in his counter-motion, told the court that the Chief Okoi Obono-Oblah led Special Presidential Investigation Panel that is moving to seize his properties for the government “is an illegal body”, saying it was not created under any law made by the National Assembly.
“The so called Special Panel was never Gazetted in any publication in the Federal Government of Nigeria Gazette. The President and Commander-in-Chief never inaugurated any panel anytime and anywhere in Nigeria”, he argued.
He contended that the Panel lacked the locus standi, competence and legal vires to receive complaints, investigate and initiate legal proceedings in matters connected with assets he declared to the Code of Conduct Bureau in 2007 and 2015.
“The Constitution of Nigeria 1999 (as amended) has laid down a set of guidelines for the behaviour of public officers. It is known as the Code of Conduct, which is contained in the Fifth Schedule to the Constitution.
“The Code of Conduct Bureau is an institution created by the Constitution and charged with ensuring compliance with the Code; whilst the Code of Conduct Tribunal is responsible for enforcing it.
“It is important to invite the court’s attention to the fact that the Recovery of Public Property (Special Provision) Act, CAP R4, LFN, 2004 gives jurisdiction to the Federal High Court under Section 2(2)b which is not only inconsistent with the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act but inconsistent with section 251 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which did not include code of conduct matters under the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court
We refer to Trade Bank Plc vs Lagos Island Local Govt (2003) supra.
“My Lord, we submit that the constitution has already provided for the body to undertake this investigation and prosecution of offences related to and connected with asset declaration.
It has done so and we are therefore bound to observe it under the doctrine of covering the field.
“This sole panel has no power to receive complaints, investigate and initiate criminal proceedings against the respondent concerning issues of Assets by a public officer.
“We submit that the Federal High Court is a special court with limited jurisdiction as contained in Section 251 of the 1999 Constitution.
“Violating the Code of Conduct for Public Officers is not one of the matters in respect of which jurisdiction has been conferred on the Federal High Court under Section 251 of the Constitution.
“We urge the Court to dismiss the Ex-parte application filed in the name of the Federal Republic of Nigeria”.
While refuting allegation that he did not declare all his assets, Ekweremadu, in a nine paragraphed affidavit deposed to by one John Amoke, alleged that contents of a Will he lodged at the Probate Registry of the High Court of Justice of Enugu State, was tampered with and unlawfully altered by retired Chief Judge of the state, Justice Innocent Azubike Umezulike.
He said the Obono-Oblah led Panel never notified him of its investigation of petition the retired CJ filed against him based on his distorted Will, saying he was never at any time, queried by the CCB concerning any discrepancy in assets he declared before it.
Consequently, Ekweremadu, prayed the court to dismiss FG’s ex-parte motion for being incompetent.
Meantime, FG, on Tuesday, argued that Ekweremadu lacked the right to be heard by the court since its application was brought ex-parte with the aim of preserving all the assets in issue.
FG’s lawyer, Mr. Bala Dakum who is from the chambers of Mr. Festus Keyamo, SAN, argued that the fact Ekweremadu got wind of motion to freeze his assets, did not grant him the entitlement to be heard.
More so, FG, via its own five-paragraphed affidavit that was deposed to by one Yohanna Shankuk, alleged that Ekweremandu has already sold some of the properties in question.
It said Ekweremadu’s motion was only “a delay tactics to frustrate the substance of this suit”, saying “there are reports that the Respondent is already hurriedly selling off the assets”.
FG said its motion was to stop the Respondent “from dissipating the assets in question whilst investigations are ongoing”.
Justice Binta Nyako subsequently fixed April 26 to determine whether or not Ekweremandu should be heard before the court could grant ex-parte orders with regards to the assets in dispute.
Assets FG wants the court to freeze over Ekweremadu’s alleged failure to declare them, are located at No. 11, Evans Enwerem Street, Apo Legislative Quarters, Apo, Abuja, Plot 2633 Kyami, Abuja, Housing Estate (Plot 1106 CRD, Cadastral Zone 07-07, Lugbe, Abuja, Plot 2782 Asokoro Extension, Abuja, Houses at Citi Park Estate, Gwagwalada, Abuja, Plot 1474 Cadastral Zone BD6, Mabushi, Abuja, Congress Court, Abuja, Flat 1, Block D25, Athletics Street, (24th Street) Games Village, Abuja and Plot 66, 64 Crescent, Gwarimpa Estate, Abuja.
Those in London are Flat 4 Varsity Court, Harmer Street, WIH 4NW, London, 52 Ayleston Avenue, NW6 7AB, London.
Other properties in Dubai and USA are; Room 1903, The Address Hotel, Downtown Dubai, The Address Boulevard, 3901, Dubai, 2 Flats of Burij Side Boulevard (the signature), Dubai, Emirate Gardens Apartment No. EGG1/1/114, Dubai, Emirate Gardens Apartment No. EGG1/115, Dubai, Apartment No. DFB/12/B 1204, Park Towers, Dubai, Flat 3604, MAG214, Dubai and Villa No 148, Maeen 1, The Lakes Emirates Hills, Dubai.
As well as 4507 Stella Street, Bellavida Estate Kissime, Florida, USA, 2747 Club Cortile Circle, Kissime, Florida, USA and 2763 Club Cortile Circle, Kissime, Florida, USA.