by Ihuoma Chiedozie, Abuja
The anticipated arraignment of two members of the House of Representatives, Herman Hembe and Ifeanyi Azubuogu, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission before a Federal High Court, Abuja, was stalled amid drama on Thursday.
The development was due to a number of factors, including Azubuogu’s absence from the court, as well as a motion by the accused persons challenging the jurisdiction of the court granting leave to the EFCC to try them.
Also, the lawyers told the court that they were served with the opposing party’s motion on Wednesday, and that they had not had enough time to respond.
The development prompted, Justice Abubakar Umar, to adjourn till May 28.
Hembe and Azubuogu were until recently, the chairman and deputy chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market and Institutions, respectively.
They were in charge of the probe of the near collapse of the capital market until a bribery allegation brought against them by the Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Ms Arunma Oteh, led to their ouster.
However, the planned arraignment turned into a drama on Thursday.
At the commencement of the sitting, counsel for Azubuogu, the second accused person, Emeka Etiaba, informed the court that his client was not present in court.
Etiaba told the court that Azubuogu travelled to Nnewi, Anambra State, as a result of the kidnap of a relative.
He went ahead to inform the court that he had filed a preliminary objection challenging the leave granted to the EFCC to arraign the lawmakers.
The defence counsel maintained that the proof of evidence filed by the EFCC did not disclose that any crime was committed by his client and questioned the proprietary of the leave granted by the court.
However, the judge frowned on Azubuogu’s absence, noting that it was shameful for a lawmaker to disrespect the law.
Umar said, “The accused is not here and decided to travel to wherever.
“It is a shame if a lawmaker chooses not to respect the law.”
The drama continued as Hembe’s counsel, Jibrin Okutepa, also toed the line threaded by Etiaba by informing the court that he had filed a preliminary objection to the charge preferred against his client on the ground that the proof of evidence before the court did not disclose any prima facie case against him.
Thereafter, a heated argument ensued between Okutepa and EFCC counsel, Mr. O. Uket, who insisted that Hembe must enter the dock, a move which was spiritedly opposed by the defence counsel, who said his client could not be put in the dock.
After Hembe refused to enter the dock on the prompting of his counsel, the judge asked him to stand up to indicate his presence in the courtroom.
Hembe stood up, and the judge further directed that he should come and stand at the front of the court.
Okutepa argued that Hembe should not enter the dock because he was challenging the jurisdiction of the court to grant leave to the EFCC to prefer criminal charges against (Hembe).
The EFCC counsel argued that the issue of jurisdiction should be determined after the accused persons had taken their plea, an argument which was opposed by the defence counsel.
After listening to all the submissions, the judge ruled that it was premature to dock Hembe, saying the issue of jurisdiction should be determined before the EFCC could arraign the accused persons.
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