A coalition of civil society groups operating as Civil Society Network Against Corruption (CSNAC), has approached the National Judicial Council (NJC) to probe and sanction Justice NFN Ntong of the High Court of Akwa Ibom State, Ikot Ekpene Judicial Division, for giving orders which overruled decisions of Supreme Court on the powers to prosecute economic and financial crimes.
In a petition to the council and signed by the coalition’s National Chairman, Olanrewaju Suraju, the group had alleged that Justice Ntong stopped the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), and the Inspector General of Police from arresting, detaining or investigating any official of the state government, past or present, without any report of indictment by the Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly.
The judge was also alleged to have stopped principal officers of the state government from cooperating with the prosecutorial agencies probing corruption allegations in the state.
The affected principal officers of the state government restrained from cooperating with the agencies were The Speaker of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly; The House of Assembly for Akwa Ibom State; The Clerk of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly; The Auditor General for Akwa Ibom State and the Accountant General for Akwa Ibom State
The group is urging the NJC not to allow the judge to go scotsfree.
The petition which reads in part said “Curiously, the court restrained ALL commercial banks in Nigeria, including: Zenith Bank Plc; Keystone Bank Plc (formerly Bank PHB); Skye Bank Plc; First City Monument Bank Plc and United Bank for Africa Plc from submitting any document, Financial Statement/Record, Statement of Account, Cheque or Voucher related to any account of the Akwa Ibom State Government to any agency of the Federal Government, including the EFCC, ICPC or the Inspector General of Police.
“The enrolled order to this effect was issued by Justice Ntong on July 13, 2016, the group said.
The group said the Attorney Attorney of Akwa Ibom state, Mr. Nwoko, in an interview with an online newspaper stated that the state government went to court because the EFCC wrote letters to banks requesting documents on state government’s transactions.
“These orders granted by Justice Ntong are not only illegal but constitute a gross abuse of judicial process and powers in the light of judicial decisions, including those of the highest court of the land (the Supreme Court) on the matter.
“There are at least five (5) settled principles of law violated by the interim injunction
“First, the High Court of Akwa Ibom State lacks the requisite jurisdiction to entertain any subject matter or question relating to: (a) the administration, management or control of the Federal Government or any of its agencies, including the EFCC and ICPC; (b) the operation and interpretation of the Constitution in so far as it affects the Federal Government or any of its agencies and (c) any action or proceeding for a declaration, order or injunction affecting the validity of any executive or administrative action or decision by the Federal Government or any of its agencies.
“By virtue of Section 251 (1) (p), (q) and (r) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), the jurisdiction over the subject matter listed in the preceding paragraph is conferred EXCLUSIVELY on the Federal High Court.
“For ease of reference, the following cases are apt: NEPA v. Edegbero (2002) 18 NWLR (Pt. 798) 69; Benson Agbule v. Warri Refinery & Petrochemical Co. Ltd. (2013) 6 NWLR (Pt. 798) 78; Olutola v. University of Ilorin (2005) 3 MJSC 151 at Pp. 173-174; Inegbedion v. Selo-Ojemen & Anor (2013) All FWLR (Pt. 688) 907 at Pp. 922-923 and very recently, John Shoy International Limited v. Federal Housing Authority (Unreported Appeal No. SC. 98/2005) delivered July 2016 by the Supreme Court.”
“It is beyond argument that the suit instituted by the Attorney General of Akwa Ibom State and the orders made by Justice Ntong clearly offend the provisions 251 (1) (p), (q) and (r) of the Constitution and the Supreme Court authorities cited supra.
“The subject matter in the case relates to the operation and interpretation of the Constitution as it affects the EFCC and ICPC (both of which are agencies of the Federal Government).
“The interim injunction affects the validity of the administrative actions of the anti-corruption agencies.
“The law is now firmly established that proceedings no matter how well conducted and orders made by a court without jurisdiction are a nullity. The locus classicus on this is Madukolo v. Nkemdilim (1962) 2 SCNLR 341.
“On the power of Federal law enforcement agencies to investigate state government, this is an issue resolved by the Supreme Court in the case of Attorney General of Ondo State v. Attorney General of the Federation (2002) 9 NWLR (Pt.772) 2222.
“Relying on Sections 4 (4) and 15 (5) and items 60 (a) and 67 of the First Schedule to the Constitution and other enabling provisions, the Apex Court upheld, validated and sustained the ICPC and its establishment Act and dismissed the arguments canvassed by Ondo State.
“This decision was followed consistently in subsequent cases on the subject.
“The power to prosecute economic crimes is exclusive to the Federal Government.
“It is not shared with the States. See the Supreme Court decision in Nyame v. Federal Republic of Nigeria (2010) 11 NWLR (Pt. 1193) 344. In the Amadi v. Federal Republic of Nigeria (2008) 18 NWLR (Pt. 1119) 259 at 276, Muktar, JSC (as he then was) held that: “Indeed, the EFCC is a common agency for both the Federal and State Economic and Financial Crimes”.
“In the light of the position of the law as encapsulated above, it is most shocking, regrettable and embarrassing that Mr Nwoko, who is the Chief Law Officer of Akwa Ibom State by virtue of Section 195 of the Constitution purported to set “a precedent” over an issue that the Supreme Court of Nigeria has settled.
“If the Attorney General is oblivious of the state of the law on a constitutional issue like this, what becomes of the rule of law and justice in Akwa Ibom State?
“The injunction granted by Justice Ntong is a daring slap on the face of the Supreme Court, the constitution and the Judiciary,” the group maintained