Dec 22, 2012

Go face trial for corruption; stop this “cat and mouse” game, judge tells Babalakin

Mr. Babalakin was dealt a heavy blow by the Federal High Court judge.
For the second time in one week, a Federal High court sitting in Lagos struck out a suit instituted by embattled billionaire lawyer, Wale Babalakin, seeking to restrain the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, from arresting and prosecuting him.

In his ruling, Friday, Justice Ibrahim Buba, urged Mr. Babalakin to “properly” take his “cat and mouse” application before the Lagos High court.

Mr. Babalakin, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, is facing a N4.7 billion money laundering allegation by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, at a Lagos High Court.

Mr. Buba said that he lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the suit since the Federal High court and the Lagos High court have concurrent jurisdiction.

“I do not find any merit in the fundamental rights application of the applicant,” Mr. Buba said.

“The applicant cannot approach this court to enforce his fundamental human right, since the court has a concurrent jurisdiction with the Lagos State High court on matters touching on fundamental rights,” Mr. Buba added.

The judge also held that Mr. Babalakin ought to have challenged the authorities of the Lagos High court over his alleged harassment.

“Nothing stops the applicant from telling the court of trial of his state of health, after all only the living can face trial,” said Mr. Buba.

“The police reserves the right to arrest and detain an accused without a warrant where a criminal charge is preferred against him.”

Death blow

Friday’s ruling has dealt a huge blow to Mr. Babalakin’s effort to frustrate his arraignment and prosecution.

Mr. Buba’s tersely worded judgment directed the “learned SAN” to be courageous enough “to stand trial.”

After a December 14 ruling by Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court dismissing Mr. Babalakin’s suit seeking to evade prosecution; his lawyers filed the same suit before Mr. Buba urging him to enforce their client’s fundamental rights.

The move led to an anti corruption group, Civil Society Network Against Corruption, filing a petition to the National Judicial Council urging it to sanction Mr. Babalakin’s attempts to “ridicule” the judiciary.

Last month, the Bi-Courtney boss failed to appear before a Lagos High court, for the second time, due to “illness.”

While his lawyers were telling a Lagos High Court judge that their client was struck by a “sudden illness”; another set of lawyers, on the same day, were urging a Federal High court judge to restrain authorities from prosecuting him.

An embarrassed Ebun Sofunde, his then lead counsel at the Lagos High court, after he got wind of the proceedings at the Federal High Court, announced his withdrawal from the suit.
‘No escape route’

Wale Akoni, his counsel, stated that the EFCC’s move to surround the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, LUTH, where his client is ‘convalescing’ is worsening his health condition.

“The respondents (EFCC) have surrounded LUTH both within the premises and outside it with armed policemen and other officers of sister security agencies in furtherance of the incarceration,” Mr. Akoni stated in his affidavit to the Federal High Court.

But Rotimi Jacobs, the EFCC counsel, urged the court to disregard the defendant’s claims as they had received intelligence that he wants to flee the country.

Mr. Jacobs also said that Mr. Babalakin, when granted administrative bail in February, May, and November this year, had “consistently” breached the conditions.

“We are saying at this time that the bail has been revoked,” said Mr. Jacobs.

Mr. Babalakin had argued before the judge that he was a victim of witch-hunt by the EFCC and the Attorney-General of the Federation because “he stood up to challenge the authorities.”

“A lot of energy and time is being dissipated when it is all agreed that charge is already pending before the Lagos High Court of concurrent jurisdiction,” Mr. Buba said.

“The applicant should not be scared to approach the court for the enforcement of his fundamental human right,” he added.

Mr. Babalakin’s next adjourned date for his “possible arraignment” before the Lagos High court, Ikeja, is fixed for January 17.