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Alleged N0.5m Gratification: AGF, Presidential Panel on Asset Recovery Fights Dirty Over Arraignment of Suspects

There was a hot exchange of words today, as the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), and the  Special Presidential Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPPRPP), fight in the open court over the prosecution of Five directors of National Art Theatre, Iganmu Lagos, who are charged over alleged N500, 000, gratification.

The exchange of words started when the matter was called for the plea of the suspects to be taken, as two lawyers, Dr. Celsius Ukpong,  from the SPPRPP, Mr. A. K. Alilu, from the office of AGF, announced their appearance as prosecutors in the same matter.

The five directors, George Ufot Ukanta, Abiodun Abe, Femi Joel, Ndubuisi Nwogu and Mrs. Doris Okafor, wife of a retired army General.

At the resumed hearing of the matter today, Ukpong, after announcing his appearance for the prosecution, and told the court for the arraignment of the suspects, immediately after Ukpong's submission, Alilu, also stood up and announced his appearance as prosecutor also.

Alilu told the court that he has the AGF's directive to take over the matter. He consequently, asked for a short adjournment to enable him take over case file and study it.
 
Surprised by Alilu's announcement and submission as prosecutor in the matter, Ukpong, rose to his feet  and told the court to discountenance Alilu's appearance.

Ukpong told the court that he did not believe that there is any AGF's instruction, he described Alilu's appearance as an ambush.

He said: "we are in the same office, he knows where to get us, they have all the time to inform us officially, we are not private counsel, if they have special interest in this matter, they should let us know.

"I filed this charge, as a staff of SPPRPP, created under section 1(1) of the Recovery of Public Properties Special Provisions Act, 2004, and I filed this charge for the AGF".

Ukpong said "we don't have issues about the power of the AGF to take over this matter or any matter whatsoever, he (the AGF) has power to do so but due process must be followed. 

"Anybody can't just jump up and say, am representing the AGF. We are in the same office, they have to write us and ask for the case file. Its not for the counsel to come to Court. I asked that the defendants be arraigned, and subsequently, the AGF can do the necessary thing and take over the case".

Responding, counsel from the AGF's office, Alilu said: " I don't know why the counsel is taking it personal. Am from the AGF's office, department of Public Prosecution, we do not oppose to anybody being tried or charged, but our position is that due must be followed.

"We are aware that SPPRPP filed this charge, but the AGF has the power to take over ant matter at any stage, by provisions of section 174 (1) of the 1999 of Constitution".

Ruling on the submissions of the two counsel, the trial judge, Justice Muslim Hassan, held that on the issue of the representation, Section 174(1) of the constitution, gave the AGF the power to institute case against any person or persons, to take over case at any stage, and to discontinue any case against any person or persons.

Hassan further ruled that the AGF is not bound to give any reasons for taking over any case, adding that Alilu is an officer of the AGF, and can validly take over any matter on the directive of the AGF since it is not in dispute that he is not from AGF's office.

After the count's ruling of the appearance of the counsel in the matter, counsel to all defendants, Adamu Muhammed, told the court that his clients are having two applications before the court.

One of the applications he said is preliminary objection, challenging the court's jurisdiction to entertain the charge, while the other is bail applications of his clients.

Adamu however told the court that he will wait till the next adjourn date.

The matter has been adjourned till June 13, for the arraignment of all defendants.

They five directors were charged before the court by the SPPRPP for allegedly received the sum of N500, 000, from contractors.

SPPRPP in a charge marked  FHC/L/282c/18, against the five accused persons, according to the charge marked , were alleged to have on January 16, 2017, obtained the sum of N500, 000, from a commercial firm, Market Execution Solution Limited, which has a contract with the federal government of Nigeria, in the course of discharging their duty.

The offences are contrary to Section 10(1) g& (2) of the Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, and punishable under section 1(2) & and 10(1)(a) of the Recovery of the Public Property (Special Provisions) Act.

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