By Adebisi Onanuga
Activist lawyer, Femi Falana (SAN) has asked the Justice Isa Ayo Salami Presidential Judicial Commission of Inquiry not to recommend for termination, two criminal cases involving a senior lawyer, Mr Rickey Tarfa (SAN) and his client before Lagos High Courts.
Falana urged the Judicial Commission to refrain from further reviewing the criminal cases pending in the Lagos State High Court failure of which he would approach the Federal High Court with a view to quashing the proceedings of the judicial commission of inquiry for reviewing criminal cases that are pending before the Lagos State High Court.
In a petition dated September 4, 2020, written to the Secretary of the Commission, the activist lawyer queried the power of the judicial commission to terminate cases that are on-going in the high courts.
Two Beninese, Gnahoue Sourou Nazaire and Mr. Senou Modeste, who are Tarfa’s clients, are facing a N630 million fraud charge and forgery of documents charges before the Lagos High Court.
Tarfa on his part is facing alleged obstruction of justice charges before the court and for allegedly bribing a judge, Justice Nasir Yinusa to secure favourable decisions for his clients.
He asked the judicial commission not to recommend the termination of the suits before the Lagos courts.
Tarfa and his clients, however, petitioned the Justice Salami’s panel, seeking a review of the two cases on grounds that they were victims of the suspended Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) Acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu.
Falana said his client, Madam Rachidatou Abdou, who is the complainant in two suits against the defendant, Nazaire and others, falsely informed the commission that the suspended Chairman of the EFCC, Ibrahim Magu abused his office by charging them with forgery and stealing in the Lagos State High Court on the basis of a petition written on her behalf by our law firm.
The petition was copied to President Muhammadu Buhari and Vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo (SAN). Falana said they have since confirmed that the Commission entertained the petition, reviewed the two criminal cases pending in the Lagos State High Court, took evidence from the second defendant who has been dismissed from the company on grounds of fraud.He said the tainted evidence of the defendants was said to have been corroborated by his lawyer who alleged that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is currently prosecuting Mr. Ricky Tarfa SAN for defending the defendants in the criminal cases. Citing relevant Supreme Court decisions in Gafar v Government of Kwara State (2007) 20 WRN 170, Falana argued that the Judicial Commission lacks the vires to review the criminal cases pending in the Lagos State High Court as the President who constituted it has no control over the subject matter and that the Attorney General of Lagos State who authorised the EFCC to initiate the criminal proceedings is not an agent of the President.
He also contended that since the defendants were charged under the Criminal Law of Lagos State, it is the Attorney-General of Lagos State who is empowered by section 211 of the Constitution to terminate the criminal cases pending before the Lagos State High Court in accordance with the principles of law enunciated by the Supreme Court in the case of Anyebe v The State (1986) 1 MWLR (Pt 14) 39.”The Honourable Judicial Commission lacks the power to request the President to order the Attorney-General of the Federation to terminate the criminal proceedings arising from the contravention of the Criminal Code of Lagos State. It is trite law that the Attorney General of the Federation is not subject to the control or directive of the President or any authority whatsoever in the exercise of the power to terminate any criminal case under section 174 of the Constitution”, he further argued.Giving the genesis of the matter, Falana said sometime in 2007, the complainant, Madam Rachidatou, who enjoyed dual citizenship, decided to incorporate her company called Rana Hair Prestige and out of her own volition, made her friend, Mr. Gnahoue Sourou Nazaire, a co-director in the company.
“Thereafter, the two business partners became close and our client became pregnant shortly after they started dating. But while our client travelled to France to deliver her baby, Mr. Nazaire diverted the fund of the company and forged vital documents in order to reduce her shares in the company.Upon her return to the country in May 2012, he said the complainant, through her former counsel, Akingbolu & Salawu, wrote a petition to the Special Fraud Unit of the Nigeria Police Force, alleging fraud, forgery and stealing of the fund of her company by her partner, Mr. Nazaire and a former Managing Director of the company, Mr. Senou Modeste. He said the Police investigated the allegations and confirmed that they were true adding, “even though the defendants were indicted, the Police declined to arraign them in court based on their plea to resolve the dispute with our client in an amicable manner.”However, the defendants refused to resolve the dispute and threatened thereafter to deal ruthlessly with our client as they boasted that they are “well connected in Nigeria”.He said it was at that stage that our client briefed us to take over her case adding that his law firm accepted the brief on the condition that they would collaborate with the law firm of Akingbolu & Salawu to secure justice for her and subsequently we reviewed the case and petitioned the EFCC through a letter dated December 16, 2013. ”Contrary to the spurious evidence of the defendants before the Judicial Commission, our client’s petition was submitted to the EFCC under the chairmanship of Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde. The EFCC painstakingly investigated the complaint, indicted the defendants and charged them with forgery and uttering of documents at the Lagos State High Court on July 20, 2015.
The Charge No was LD/1709C/2015 (FRN v Gnahoue Sourou Nazaire &2 Ors) was later amended with the leave of the learned trial judge.”However, following the commencement of the criminal proceedings in the Lagos State High Court the defendants filed a fundamental right application (Suit No FHC/L/CS/715/2015) at the Federal High Court seeking to restrain the Attorney-General of the Federation, Inspector General of Police and EFCC from arresting, detaining and persecuting them on the basis of our client’s complaint. ”The application was opposed by the counsel to the Respondents who cited several authorities including the case of Dokubo Asari v Federal Republic of Nigeria (2007) 12 NWLR (Pt 1048) 220 where the Supreme Court had held that ”The power of arrest of suspected offenders is vested in the police and no one can take it away from them. This general power invested in the police to arrest and detain suspected criminals is statutory.”
Curiously, the Federal High Court presided over by Nasir Yinusa J. ignored the authorities and proceeded to grant the reliefs sought by the applicants. ”It was later established by the EFCC that the judgments were purchased by the applicants’ counsel and that there were regular telephone conversations between the counsel and the Judge when the fundamental rights cases were pending at the Federal High Court. Hence, Mr Ricky Tarfa SAN was charged with obstruction of justice contrary to section 97(3) of the Criminal Code Law of Lagos State. We have confirmed that the Honourable Judicial Commission has also taken evidence from the representative of Mr. Ricky Tarfa SAN with a view to making a recommendation to the President to direct the Attorney-General of the Federation to terminate the criminal case pending against him at the Lagos State High Court”, he stated. Falana maintained that the criminal case instituted by the EFCC against the defendants at the Lagos State High Court in July 2015 and the fundamental rights cases filed by the defendants at the Federal High Court were inherited by Mr. Ibrahim Magu in November 2015 upon his appointment as the Acting Chairman of the EFCC.”Therefore, the defendants lied on oath and deliberately set out to pervert the course of justice when they claimed before the Honourable Judicial Commission that our client’s petition was submitted to the EFCC under the leadership of Mr. Ibrahim Magu”.
Falana alleged that the defendants colluded with a few corrupt policemen at Zone 2, Onikan, Lagos State to deport his client from Nigeria pointing out that to achieve the criminal objective, the police arrested and charged our client with forging her Nigerian Passport before the Chief Magistrate Court at Igbosere, Lagos State.But upon a critical review of the facts of the case, the office of the Attorney-General of Lagos State caused the criminal charge to be withdrawn as there was no scintilla of evidence to prove it. Consequently, the learned Chief Magistrate struck out the charge and discharged our client. ”Having failed to use the Nigeria Immigration Service and the Police to deport our client from Nigeria and thereby frustrate their trial, the defendants have decided to subvert the Nigerian criminal legal system by praying the Judicial Commission to recommend to the President to direct the Attorney General of the Federation to terminate the criminal cases pending against them in the Lagos State High Court”, he said.