Justice Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court, Abuja has rejected a request by the Federal Government for the issuance of a bench warrant on Deputy Senate President Ike Ekweremadu, who is accused of failing to declare his assets.
Ekweremadu is accused in a two-count charge filed on behalf of the Federal Government by the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPIP) of refusing to declare his assets.
He is said to have refused “without reasonable excuse, upon the notice to declare his assets in the manner prescribed by the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property”.
Yesterday, lawyer for the prosecution, Celsus Ukpong, told the court that Ekweremadu has consistently refused to attend court despite being served with the charge filed on May 11, this year.
Ukpong added that Ekweremadu has also shunned the court despite being served with the court summons for his arraignment yesterday.
The lawyer said: “He Ekweremadu decided not to obey the summons. We therefore apply for a bench warrant to be issued against him.”
Ekweremadu’s lawyer Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), however, urged the court to disregard Ukpong’s application for a bench warrant on his client.
Awomolo said Ekweremadu had, on November 1, 2018, challenged the competence of the charge and the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case through an application of objection.
He urged the court to first resolve the challenge to its jurisdiction and the competence of the charge before attending to the charge. He cited some authorities, including a recent decision by the Court of Appeal in Abuja, which explained the powers of the SPIP.
Awomolo said: “On November 5, 2018, the Court of Appeal delivered a judgment to the effect that the panel (SPIP) has no prosecutorial powers.” He noted that with the judgment of the Court of Appeal, the panel should have “honourably withdrawn the charge”.
He later handed a copy of the judgment to Justice Nyako, following which the judge directed Awomolo to give a copy of the judgment to Ukpong, who claimed not to be aware of the decision by the Court of Appeal, Abuja.
The judge said it was premature for the prosecution to request the court to issue a bench warrant against the defendant.
She said it was until the motion challenging the court’s jurisdiction and the issues concerning the recent judgment of the Court of Appeal were resolved, before the court could consider the issue of whether or not a bench warrant should be issued.