The Independent National Electoral Commission’s 23 officials, who were accused of receiving N360m bribe from Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, have filed objection to their trial in Abuja.
The Office of the Attorney General of the Federation had, on March 7, filed seven counts against the 23 defendants for allegedly receiving N360m bribe from Wike in connection with the December 10, 2016, rerun elections in River State.
The 23 defendants appeared before Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday but the proceedings were stalled after the defence lawyers informed the judge of their pending application challenging the jurisdiction of the court.
Shortly after the case was called on Tuesday, the lead prosecuting counsel, Mr. A. K. Alilu, urged the judge to direct the charges to be read to the accused persons.
But in response, the lawyer for 20 of the defendants, Mr. Ahmed Raji (SAN), said he had filed a motion, dated March 13, 2017, challenging the territorial jurisdiction of the court.
He said the actions being complained of, having taken place in Rivers State, the court in Abuja lacked territorial jurisdiction to entertain the case.
Raji stated, “We have a motion, dated March 13, 2017, challenging the territorial jurisdiction of this court.
“All the acts being complained about took place in Rivers State.None of the defendants is resident here.
“This is a motion that should be resolved one way or the other.
“We urge Your Lordship to stay the issue of plea, pending the resolution of this motion. Then, if My Lord affirms the territorial integrity of the court, we can go on with the trial.”
Two other defence lawyers also told the court that they intended to file similar applications.
Alilu also indicated that he intended to oppose the application.
The judge then directed that the prosecution to file its objection to the already filed application and others that might be filed later.
He fixed April 7 for hearing of the motions.
The accused persons, named in the charges marked FHC/ABJ/CR/42/2017, are said to include three state coordinators of the electoral body.
The prosecution, in the charges, alleged that the N360m bribe, which the 23 defendants allegedly received from Wike, represented proceeds of the governor’s criminal conduct as well as economic and financial crimes.
The 23 INEC officials allegedly, between December 7 and 10, 2016, “converted, concealed, were in possession” and “used” the sum of N360m bribe in violation of various provisions of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 and Economic and Financial Crimes (Establishment, etc) Act, 2004.
The accused include Shittu Lamido (Shettima), Henry Owokure, Peter Ewetade, Mrs. Tunkoyo Pennap, Gwatana Jibril, Ivase Stephen and Abdullahi Ogabo.
Also named as part of the defendants are Gayus Hassan, Hussaini Yahaya, James Ogwuche, Karimu Aminu and Adedokun Ayotunde.
The defendants also include Balogun Funmilayo, Adams Kadiri, Akinwande Adesoji, Lukeman Olabimpe and Tiamiyu Arowolo.
Other accused persons in the case are Akinwoye Amodu, Nwoha Yusuf, Patrick Anuke, Iro Abali, Nwosu Oluchi and Arukwe Chinelo.