Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday declined to grant an ex-parte application filed by Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, seeking to secure her release from the custody of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Justice Hassan instead directed the embattled judge to put the EFCC on notice to enable them file their response to the application.
Also on Monday, another judge of the court, Justice Mohammed Idris fixed November 25 for judgement on a similar application filed by a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Godwin Obla, seeking his release and a declaration that his continued detention by the anti-graft agency is unlawful.
The EFCC had instituted a 30-count charge against both Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia and Obla over conspiracy to pervert justice by allegedly giving and receiving a bribe of N5 million.
The EFCC said about $793,800 passed through the judge’s domiciliary accounts between 2012 and 2015. The judge allegedly used the money to buy a house in London.
The two accounts, Access Bank (0002649223) and Diamond Bank (0032091183) have since been frozen by the EFCC.
Five of the charges are centered on an alleged N5m bribe given to the judge by the senior advocate while the remaining 25 charges are on the huge amounts that passed through the accounts of Ofili-Ajumogobia and her alleged inability to explain her source of wealth.
The other charges filed against the judge border on forgery, lying, unlawful enrichment and other related offenses.
Ofili-Ajumogobia and Obla have been in the custody of the EFCC for about 10 days following revelations that the senior advocate paid N5m into her account in 2015 at a time she was presiding over one of his cases.
While Ofili-Ajumogobia allegedly claimed the money was a deposit for a N40m property she sold to Obla, the senior advocate said the money was a payment for building materials.
Obla also insisted that he did not know that the account belonged to the judge.
The commission is expected to arraign the two suspects before a Lagos State High Court on Friday.
In her fundamental rights enforcement suit, Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia’s had through her lawyer, Moyosore Onigbanjo, faulted her continued detention in the EFCC’s custody.
Onigbanjo argued that the commission has an option to charge Ajumogobia to court if it is sure she has committed any offence.
He said: “The EFCC has the option to charge her to court but it has not done so. She has also stated that she is ready to defend herself vigorously against any charge that may be slammed on her.
“She is ready to deposit her passport and abide by any other conditions that the court may impose on her. There is no need under the law to continue to keep her in detention except to humiliate her because the offence is bailable”
In a short ruling, Justice Hassan held, “I am of the view that the interest of justice will be better served if the respondent is put on notice. The prayers being sought cannot be granted through a motion ex-parte”.
Hearing of the application has been fixed for November 28.
While Obla through his counsel, Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN) urged the court to hold, that the continued detention of Obla, as well as the seizure of his mobile phones, constituted an infringement on his rights to liberty and ownership of property.
He told the court that the applicant, who was also a one time prosecutor for the EFCC, was invited to the commission on November 8 and he had been unduly detained till date.
According to him, the phones of the applicant were also seized, contrary to constitutional provisions to own property.
He submitted that the detention of Obla from November 8 till when the EFCC obtained a magisterial order for further detention, was a gross violation of his rights to personal liberty.
He urged the court to so hold.
In response, counsel to the EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo, urged the court to dismiss the applicant’s processes for lack of merit.
Oyedepo argued that the steps taken by the EFCC were allowed by law in the dispensation of its duties.
According to him, intelligence report showed that the applicant had a company known as Obla & Co Ltd, from which the sum of N5 million was transferred to Hon. Justice Ajumogobia via a company known as Nigel & Colive Ltd.
The lawyer submitted that also following intelligence reports, Ajumogobia was discovered to be sole signatory to Nigel & Colive Ltd.
Oyedepo also argued that the said sum of money was transferred to the judge, during the pendency of a case before her court with suit numbered FHC/L/CS/482/10.
He further claimed that the mere transfer of the said sum to the Judge during the pendency of a case before her, clearly showed a mind set to unduly gratify.
Oyedepo prayed the court to hold that there existed a reasonable cause for suspicion by the commission.
“The applicant even agreed that there was a communication between him and the judge” he said.
On the issue of undue detention, Oyedepo argued that on November 8 after the applicant was detained, investigations could not be concluded and so, on November 9, an application was brought before a Magistrate court, for a remand order.
The lawyer maintained that the court, which was empowered by the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Laws, granted a remand order for 14 days, adding that this was even in the presence of the applicant.
He argued that the applicant did not file any application before the magistrate court for a variation of terms, or even an appeal against its ruling, adding that this court could not sit on appeal over the issue.
On the argument of unlawful detention, Oyedepo submitted that even the constitution allows for the liberty of individuals to be curtailed, adding that the EFCC acted in line with due provisions of the law.
On the seizure of the applicant’s mobile phones, Oyedepo argued that section 44 (k) of the constitution, allows for the temporary taking over of a property, for purposes of enquiry, adding that such right was qualified.
He, therefore, urged the court not to allow itself to be used as a shield against lawful prosecution.
After listening to the submissions of counsels, Justice Mohammed Idris, fixed Nov. 25 for judgement.