The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division yesterday held that the Chief Okoi Obono-Obla led Presidential Panel on Assets Recovery lacked the power to prosecute and therefore, cannot initiate criminal proceedings against any accused person.
Also, the court held that the panel lacked the constitutional power to seize properties of alleged offenders.
The judgement of the court follows an appeal filed by a staff of the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, Tijani Tumsah through his counsel, Kehinde Ogunwumiju, SAN.
The panel had approached the High Court and obtained an order forfeiting his properties, alongside that of his brother, Ibrahim Tumsah, who is the Director of Finance and Accounts in Ministry of Power, Works and Housing.
Not satisfied, Tijani had approached the appellate court challenging the prosecutorial power of the panel.
Asides the Tumsah brothers that are being prosecuted by the panel, the panel has also filed a charge against the deputy senate president, Ike Ekweremadu, Senators Hope Uzodinma and Stella Oduah.
However, in unanimous judgement yesterday, a five-man panel of the court led by Justice Hussein Muhktar held that going by the Act that established the panel, it lacks power to prosecute any offender.
The court further held that the powers of the panel is only limited to investigation and not prosecution.
In the appeal, Ogunwumiju had asked the court to determine whether the suit culminating in the forfeiture order was validly instituted by the panel before the court.
The appellant also asked the appellate court to determine whether or not the panel could validly rely on the EFCC Act to obtain the freezing order granted by the lower court on December 6, 2017.
Also the appellant asked the court to determine whether or not the lower court was right when it refused to set aside its interim freezing order of December 6, 2016.
The court however resolved all the three issues in favour of the appellant.
It held that nothing in the Recovery of Public Property Act Cap R 4, LFN 2004 empowers the panel to initiate court proceedings pursuant to its investigative powers for the purpose of obtaining an interim order for forfeiture of property.
According to the court, “the panel cannot clothe itself with the cloth not given to it by the Act that established it. It cannot take over the responsibilities of the EFCC.
“The power to investigate and prosecute is solely for the EFCC and such cannot be taken over by any person or agency.
“The provision of the Act is unambiguous and not confusing. The powers of the panel is to conduct investigation on any officer who have corruptly enriched himself or breached the code of conduct.
“No power or authority is conferred on the panel to prosecute offenders.
“The ex-parte order granted by the lower court as regards the properties of the appellant is hereby set aside.
“The court below lacks the jurisdiction to entertain the matter, let alone enter judgement”.
The court held that suit instituted against the appellants at the lower court was not properly instituted.
SOURCE : LEADERSHIP NEWSPAPER