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Court Dismisses Tompolo's Suit Against FG, Others

Tompolo
Justice Cecilia Mojisola Olatoregun of a Federal High Court, Lagos, dismissed an application filed before the court by the Niger/Delta warlord, Chief Government Ekpemupolo, popularly called Tomopolo, challenging a criminal charge filed against by the Federal government of Nigeria.

The Niger/Delta warlord through his lawyer, Mr. Ebun Olu-Adegboruwa, had approached the court seeking nullification of Section 221 and 306 of Administration of Criminal Justice (ACJA) 2015, under which he was charged, arguing the the two sections violates his Constitutional right to fair hearing.

Tomopolo had joined the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Inspector-General of Police, the Chief of Army Staff, the Chief of Naval Staff and the Chief of Air Staff, as other Defendants in the suit.

In the application, Tomopolo had also argued that both sections 221 and 306 are unconstitutional so far at they seek to prevent the court from exercising its jurisdiction to entertain any objection to a criminal charge and application for a stay of proceedings pending appeal.

"Section 221 Administration of Criminal Justice Act, states that objections shall not be taken or entertained during proceedings or trial on the ground of an imperfect or erroneous charge,  while Section 306 states that “an application for stay of proceedings in respect of a criminal matter before a court shall not be entertained”.

Responding to Tompolo's suit, the Federal government of Nigeria, through its lawyer, Mr. Idris Mohammed, from the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had urged the court to dismiss the suit witb a substative cost as it is an abuse of court process, frivolous, time wasting, grossly misleading and erroneous in its totality.

Dismissing the suit, Justice Olatoregun stated that the Supreme Court has affirmed that either a charge is defective or not, an accused person is bound to first take his plea. Adding that interlocutory application cannot stop criminal trial.

Consequently, Justice Olatoregun dismissed Tompolo's suit but not award any cost.

It will be recalled that Justice Ibrahim Buba of the same court had on January 14, 2016 issued a warrant for the arrest of Tompolo after he failed to show up for his trial.

The EFCC had charged Tompolo alongside nine others for an alleged N45.9 billion fraud.

But, on January 27, 2016, Tompolo filed an application before the Court, seeking an order setting aside the said warrant of arrest. 

On February 8, 2016, the said application was argued and dismissed by the Court.

Tompolo thereafter filed an appeal against the Ruling of the Court, on February 18, 2016. 

Tompolo’s appeal was entered at the Court of Appeal on March 3, 2016, following which his lawyers have filed the Appellant’s brief of argument in the said appeal, awaiting the response of the EFCC.

In the counter affidavit filed by the federal government in opposition to Tompolo’s suit, the government claimed that the sections does not infringe on the fair hearing and fundamental rights of the applicant.

The government contended that the intention of the sections were geared towards ensuring speedy and efficient dispensation of justice and to avoid malicious delay and stalling of criminal cases by parties employing frivolous and time wasting tactics to impede the course of justice.

The respondent also submitted that the sections does not shut out the applicant from contesting an alleged erroneous or defective charge but only provides that such contest may be made after trial in a Final Address. 

In the dismissed suit, Tompolo had sought a court declaration that section 221 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, is to the extent that it seeks to be an absolute bar to any objection to a criminal charge or information, already filed, especially Charge No.FHC/L/553C/2015 – Federal Republic of Nigeria v Government Ekpemupolo (Alias Tompolo) & 9 Ors., and Charge No. FHC/L/31C/2016 – Federal Republic of Nigeria v Ekpemupolo Chief Government Oweize& 12 Ors., or to be filed against the applicant, constitutes a flagrant violation of the applicant’s fundamental right to fair hearing as guaranteed under Sections 36(1), (4) & (6) as well the inherent powers of a court of law under Section 6(6)(a)(b) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and Article VII of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and is therefore illegal, unconstitutional, null and void.

The Niger/Delta Warlord had also asked the court for an injunction restraining all the respondents whether by themselves or by their servants, agents or privies or otherwise howsoever, from filing or further filing, prosecuting or further prosecuting, any criminal charge or information, especially Charge No.FHC/L/553C/2015 - Federal Republic of Nigeria v Government Ekpemupolo (Alias Tompolo) & 9 Ors., Charge No. FHC/L/31C/2016 – Federal Republic of Nigeria v Ekpemupolo Chief Government Oweize& 12 Ors., against the applicant, the prosecution of which may constitute a flagrant violation of the applicant’s fundamental right to fair hearing as guaranteed under Sections 36(1), (4) & (6) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and Article VII of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

And an injunction restraining the Respondents whether by themselves or by their servants, agents or privies or otherwise howsoever, from initiating, filing, prosecuting or further prosecuting any criminal charge or information, against the applicant, which may constitute a flagrant violation of the applicant’s fundamental right to fair hearing as guaranteed under Sections 36(1), (4) & (6) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 and Article VII of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Ratification and Enforcement) Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.

He also sought an order nullifying, voiding, striking down and expunging sections 221 and 306 from the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015 to the extent of their inconsistency with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.”

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