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Court of Appeal Voids EFCC’s Seizure of Mike Ozekhome’s Professional Fees

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The Court of Appeal, Lagos Judicial Division, in a well considered judgement on Friday (May 14, 2021), dismissed an appeal filed by the EFCC against the judgement of Justice Abdulazuz Anka of the Federal High Court, Lagos, delivered on 3,2017, and held in favour of the Respondent, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN.

Justice Anka had defozen Ozekhome’s blocked account in Guaranty Trust Bank and vacated the interim ex parte order he earlier placed on the funds of Mike Ozekhome’s Chambers, at the instance of the EFCC.

The EFCC had obtained the interim ex parte order of forfeiture to freeze the money for 120 days, arguing that the 75m transfered to the account was proceed of unlawful activity, because it was paid to Ozekhome by the then sitting Governor of Ekiti State, Mr Ayodele Fayose,whom it said it was investigating.

The Court of Appeal in dismissing the appeal brought by the EFCC ( FRN), held that the EFCC had wrongfully obtained the ex parte order to freeze the account as the lower court lacked the jurisdiction to grant same and as the defendant could not have committed any infraction to warrant his account being blocked and frozen.

The court after hearing arguments from U. U. Buhari for the Appellant (FRN) and Ejieke Onuoha (for Ozekhome), held that there was uncontradicted evidence shown in invoices and receipts issued by Ozekhome to Fayose that the said sum represented part payment of his professional fees in the handling of various cases for Fayose across Nigeria.

It would be recalled that sometime in 2016, the EFCC had, through Justice I.B.M Idris, then of the Federal High Court, Lagos, frozen Governor Fayose ‘s accounts, accusing him of allegedly keeping proceed of unlawful activity. Fayose immediately engaged Ozekhome’s legal services and he approached the Federal High Court, Ado Ekiti, presided over by Justice Taiwo Taiwo, and challenged the ex parte freezing order granted by Justice Idris.

In a judgement delivered by Hon Justice Taiwo Taiwo, the Judge had found that the freezing order had been improperly granted and without jurisdiction in the first place, and upon suppression of material facts.

Fayose after the judgement went to his bank and withdrew 5 million naira from his defrozen account for himself, while transferring 75m to Ozekhome, as part payment of his professional fees.

The EFCC, though appealed this judgement, still went ahead and freezed Ozekhome’s account, contending that the 75m paid to his chambers by Fayose as professional fees for legal services rendered was proceed of unlawful activity.

Ozekhome filed a motion before the Federal High Court, Lagos, urging it to set aside its earlier order freezing his chambers’ account. He alleged misrepresentation, non disclosure, suppression of material facts and non compliance with the rules of the lower court and Judicial authorities regulating the grant of ex parte applications by the Appellant. Justice Anka after hearing arguments from Ozekhome and Mr Rotimi Oyedepo for the EFCC vacated the ex parte order and defreezed his account with GTBank. It was this judgement that the EFCC appealed to the Court of Appeal.

In an unanimous judgement delivered by the presiding Judge, Hon Justice Chidi Nwaoma Uwa, with Justices Tunde O. Awotoye and James Gambo Abundaga, JJCA, (the other two members of the Panel), concurring, the Court of Appeal dismissed the appeal and found as of fact that the bank account from which Fayose paid the fees was unencumbered as at the time he did having been defozen by Justice Taiwo of the Federal High Court, Ado Ekiti.

The court found and held that the said order of Justice Taiwo which had vacated the order of Justice Idris (a court of equal and coordinate jurisdiction (as permitted by the Supreme Court under certain conditions), remained the extant law as it was still valid, subsisting and binding, having not been set aside by an appellate court or by the trial court itself.

The Court of Appeal also agreed with the lower court and held that from available evidence on record, the disputed amount having already been dissipated by the Respondent as at the time it was frozen by the lower court at the instance of the EFCC, the lower court did not have the requisite jurisdiction to have granted such freezing order in the first case. The court also held that the said sum of 75m was lawful proceed for legal services duly rendered to Fayose by Ozekhome, and not proceed of unlawful activity.

The Court of Appeal also agreed with the lower court, relying on the case of REGISTERED TRUSTEES OF THE NIGERIAN BAR ASSOCIATION V AG, FEDERATION & CBN (Suit No. FHC/CS/173/2015), decided in 2015, by the Hon Justice Gabriel Kolawaole (then of the Federal High Court, Abuja), and later upheld by the same Court of Appeal in appeal No. CA/A/202/2015 (CBN V REGISTERED TRUSTEES OF THE NBA), that Legal Practitioners are excluded and exempted from the definition of “DESIGNATED NON-FINANCIAL INSTITUTIONS”, as contained in section 25 of the MONEY LAUNDERING (PROHIBITION) ACT, 2011. The section had been declared invalid, null and void, being inconsisted with the overriding section 192 of the Evidence Act. The Court of Appeal held this remains the extant law.

The court also agreed with the finding of the lower court and held that the failure of the EFCC to give security or undertaking to pay damages as one of the conditions precedent to the grant of an interim injunction, as held by the Supreme Court in KOTOYE V CBN was fatal to its case. The court dismissed the Federal Government’s contention that it was not afforded fair hearing before the lower court vacated its freezing order.

The Court of Appeal was denied fair held that it was rather the hearing b efore the order affecting him was made ex parte. Consequently, the Respondent was perfectly entitled to have the order reviewed by the trial court before the expiration of its life span of 120 days, by putting forward his uncontradicte d facts and exhibits, as he did.

The court further held that an ex parte order is expected to be short as an interim measure, and that the lower court was right to have discharged the order it earl i er made before its lifespan of 120 days been misled in granting same, , having found that it had based on suppression of material facts by the EFCC.

On whether a legal practitioner is legally obliged to begin to ask a client for the very source of his money from whi ch the client desired to pay the court said there was no such requirement known to law. It held that : lawyer, “a Legal Practitioner is entitled to his fees for professional services and such fees cannot be rightly labelled as proceeds of crime.

It also held,

“further, it is not a requirement of the law that a legal Practitioner would go into inquiry before receiving his fees from his client, to find out the source of the fund from which he would be paid.”

See court documents below:

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2023 Elections: INEC Deploys 707,384 Presiding Officers

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The Independent National Electoral Commission will deploy 707,384 presiding officers for the general elections scheduled to commence on February 25.

The commission also said that since electoral education was important, there was a need to infuse it into the National Values Curriculum of primary schools in Nigeria.

INEC National Commissioner and Chairman of its Information and Voter Education Committee, Festus Okoye, stated these during the public presentation of the Electoral Education Curriculum and Teachers’ Guide for primary schools.

The curriculum which was developed by the Consortium for Elections and Political Process Strengthening  – Sustaining Electoral Engagement for Democracy project funded by USAID and FCDO and implemented by National Democratic Institute and IFES, was in partnership with the Nigeria Educational Research and Development Council, INEC (through the Voter Education Department), National Orientation Agency, Civil Society Action Coalition on Education for All and academia from across the country.

Okoye said, “We believe that electoral education is important in the goals of our nation. Electoral education is a specialized area and that is why we have this curriculum being infused into the National Values Curriculum in our primary schools.

“For instance, for the 2023 general elections in Nigeria, the commission will deploy a total of 707, 384 presiding officers and assistant presiding officers.

“These presiding officers will be drawn from the crop of young men and women doing their National Youth Service Corps, while the assistant presiding officers will be drawn from students from federal tertiary institutions.

“It is therefore important for us to understand the importance of electoral education in the development of our democracy.

“A national civic education curriculum and teachers’ guide with a specific focus on electoral education will prepare our children for the challenges ahead and also prepare them on how to respect other people’s races and also prepare them to assume leadership in future.”

The President of IFES, Anthony Banbury, said its contribution to the project was to strengthen Nigeria’s electoral process through effective teaching and learning of civic education in primary schools.

“To catch them young, the revised curriculum is a hallmark innovation that will introduce children and youth very early to the concept, processes, ethics, and values of democratic systems and governance.

“It will be essential for the young people’s orientation to initiate a shift from the existing norms. In the long term, it will increase civic participation and knowledge of democratic systems and values, as the children of today become the adults and the voters of tomorrow,” Banbury said.

The Executive Secretary of NERDC, Prof. Ismail Junaidu, said the aim was to strengthen the fabric of the nation’s democracy for sustainable growth and development.

According to him, since the return of democracy in 1999, citizens’ participation in elections and the electoral process had remained an issue of concern.

He also said that a known reason for this was the lack of adequate electoral knowledge.

“Hence, promoting democratic electoral culture and developing civic skills are therefore necessary for well-informed and responsible participation in elections and in the electoral process,” Junaidu said.

He said that the above informed the initiative of the NERDC in collaboration with IFES to develop the Electoral Education Curriculum for primary schools in Nigeria.

According to him, the curriculum, generally, is developed to expose young learners to the rudiments of democracy and inculcate in them the knowledge, skills and attitudes necessary for active citizens’ participation in the democratic process.

“Specifically, the curriculum is designed to achieve five key objectives, which are to: equip learners with basic knowledge of the concept of democracy, the role of elections in democracy and good governance.

He said the choice of primary school learners was hinged on the core principle of using education as an instrument of socialisation for the young to assume adult roles for the good of society.

“Thus, the teaching of electoral education at this level will ensure that when children reach voting age, they would have already understood the fundamentals of active participation in the political and electoral process,” Junaidu said.

While commending the management of NERDC for the initiative, the Minister of Education, Mallam Adamu Adamu, represented by his Senior Technical Assistant, Dr Claris Ujam, said the curriculum had become a dynamic process for sustainable national development.

He said, “Every time, there are changes or developments happening around the world, the school curricula are affected.

“Therefore, the inclusion of concepts and contents of electoral education under Civic Education is in line with the drive under the Ministry’s Education for Change: A Ministerial Strategic Plan.

“This is to enable the acquisition of citizenship values and skills through quality education. The electoral education curricular contents constitute a remarkable step to create positive change in the election landscape and political development.”

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Pro, Anti Ekweremadu Protesters Storm UK Trial

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The human trafficking case against a former Deputy President of the Senate, Ike Ekweremadu, and his wife, Beatrice, resumed in a London court on Tuesday.

However, anti- and pro-Ekweremadu protests were staged in front of the court ahead of the proceedings.

AFP reported that before court proceedings, there was a gathering of protesters, some of whom were in support of the lawmaker while others were against him.

The lawmaker was in June 2022 arrested alongside his wife at Heathrow Airport in London on the allegation that they flew a young man from Nigeria to the UK to harvest his organ.

The allegation added that the organ was meant for Ekweremadu’s daughter, Sonia, who is currently hospitalised with a kidney-related illness.

Some Nigerians had in October 2022 protested in Abuja against the continued detention of the lawmaker who has now spent 223 days in the custody of UK authorities.

Protesters, once again, gathered at the court on Tuesday to either support the embattled lawmaker or protest his continued detention in UK custody.

“I mean, this case is unbelievable,” one protester, Citizen Gbola, was quoted by AFP as saying.

“Where else in the world would you have a deputy senate president, who is still a serving senator, he’s still getting his regular wage?”

According to Daily Mail, Sonia couldn’t make it to court on Tuesday but sought permission with a psychological report by her team claiming she was not fit to stand trial.

She had pleaded not guilty to the allegation of trafficking a homeless man into the UK to harvest his organs for herself, when she appeared in court on November 7, 2022.

The young man, who levelled the allegation against the Ekweremadus, told Staines Police Station that he was made to undergo some medical tests, none of which he consented to.

A 50-year-old medical doctor from South London, Obinna Obeta, was also arrested in connection to the allegation.

During proceedings at the Old Bailey court, Ekweremadu who wore a grey tracksuit top only said “Yes, miss” when asked to confirm his name.

Seated beside the lawmaker in the dock and dressed in black was his wife who was granted bail in July 2022 while her husband was said to be a flight risk.

The Punch

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New Naira Notes: Emefiele Finally Appears Before House of Reps

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The Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Godwin Emefiele, has finally appeared before the House of Representatives which summoned him over the crisis caused by the redesign of some naira notes and the exchange of old naira notes with new ones by the populace.

Emefiele is appearing before the ad hoc committee set up by the House to investigate the crisis, which is chaired by Majority Leader, Alhassan Ado-Doguwa.

Speaker of the House, Femi Gbajabiamila, was to issue a warrant for Emefiele’s arrest over his repeated failures to answer at least four summons from the House.

The House had shelved its plan to go on break for the presidential and National Assembly elections, which was to commence on Thursday, over the CBN governor’s failure to answer the last summons issued to him by the committee.

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