Click for Full Image Size

Embattled former Governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori

A Federal High Court in Asaba, Delta State on Wednesday rejected an oral application by former Governor James Ibori to stop the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, the Police and the State Security Service from arresting him.

The EFCC had on April 14 declared Ibori wanted over alleged fraud involving the sale of shares belonging to the Delta State Government.

But Ibori, through his counsel, Mr. Augustine Alegeh (SAN), approached Justice Ibrahim Buba, with an application asking for an order of interim injunction restraining the EFCC from arresting him.

He also prayed the court to restrain the commission, its officers or agents from arresting, harassing, intimidating or attempting to arrest him pending the determination of the substantive motion.

Joined in the suit were the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Inspector-General of Police and the Director of SSS.

Buba, after listening to the motion, directed that the motion be served on all the respondents before it was taken on April 19.

At the resumed hearing on April 19, the court also adjourned to April 28 to enable fresh hearing notices to be served on the first and third respondents as well as for ruling.

The adjournment was made by the court after listening to Mr J. B. Daudu (SAN), counsel to Ibori.

At Wednesday's hearing, Mr. Abubakar Mahmoud, counsel to the first, third and fourth respondents, asked for a short adjournment to enable him regularise and file necessary processes.

He said his clients would file their preliminary objections and responses in the next adjourned date.

Daudu, however, said he would not object to the application if Daudu reiterated and reapplied for a preservative order made on behalf of Ibori.

The preservative order sought was to stop the EFCC from arresting the former governor pending the determination of the substantive matter.

But counsel to the EFCC, Mr. Chidi Okoroma, intervened , saying that preservative orders would be premature in the circumstance.

'If they are making an application for preservative order, it is better to make a formal application so that we will be able to react,' he argued.

Daudu, however, told the court that where counsel made a strong representation to court orally, the rug would not be pulled under the carpet if the court ruled on it.

He said, `Since the last adjourned date when Okoroma gave an indication that nothing will be done, all hell was let loose.

'The applicant (Ibori) had been declared wanted dead or alive. The affidavit we filed just showed newspaper cuttings that the EFCC has not relented in going after Ibori.

'Where we suffer this apprehension, it is one of the functions of this court to preserve the status quo. If we keep quiet, one may not have grounds to execute the application.

'Please grant the preservative order because a lot have been done to arrest Ibori. I speak from the Bar.

'I urge you to grant the order to restrain all the defendants from attempting to arrest the applicant pending the determination of this matter.''

Mahmoud also disagreed with Daudu's application because 'he is misunderstanding the legal principles in this matter.''

Mahmoud said, 'There is no basis for that order by your Lordship. The issue is not that of preserving the jurisdiction of court. There must be legal basis for the order to be made.

'There is no legally enforceable rights called the right to refuse arrest. You are being asked to issue a blanket order.

'If he (Ibori) is arrested, he is entitled to a safeguard of law. It will be outside the scope of preserving your jurisdiction.

'Court must be weary of stopping a statutory body from carrying out its functions. This application should not be entertained at all.

'Criminal justice administration should not be impeded. The application is misconceived and court should reject it.''

Okoroma, who associated himself with Mahmoud's submission, said, 'The application cannot hold water because no person had the right to be insulated from investigation.''

He said Ibori was at liberty to file a formal application on the matter.

Okoroma added, 'From April 19 till date, the status- quo remained the same, nothing has changed.

'If anything has actually changed, the court deals on facts formally presented before it.

'They have enough time to bring a formal application and give us an opportunity to react.''

In his ruling, the judge declined to make a preservative order stopping the EFCC, the police and the SSS from arresting Ibori because it was made orally.

Buba, who adjourned the case to May 10, however, ruled that Ibori was free to formally bring an application for preservative order of court.

Immediately after, Ibori filed a fresh motion seeking to stop his arrest.

The motion marked FHC/ASB/CS/34/2010 and titled 'The matter of an application by Chief James Onanefe Ibori for the enforcement of his fundamental rights to fair hearing and personal liberty under the Fundamental Rights Enforcement Procedure Rules 2009,' was filed by Daudu.

An affidavit in support of the motion was signed by Chief Azikiwe Ako, who said that he was in the court on April 19, 2010 when EFCC's counsel, Mr. Chile Okoronma, on EFCC's behalf, 'specifically stated that since the service of the court processes, they had not done anything and will not do anything that will make the determination of this matter a fait accompli.'

Ako added that 'contrary to Okoronma's undertaking in open court on Tuesday, April 20, 2010, the respondents arrived in Oghara in a bid to arrest Ibori.'

He argued that unless the court restrained the EFCC, police and the SSS, there was a likelihood that Ibori's fundamental rights would be infringed upon before May 10.

Ako added that if the embattled former governor was arrested, he might 'suffer great, untold and exceptional hardship.'

Meanwhile, the former governor has expressed his gratitude to his supporters across the country that have rallied to his defence since 'this round of political persecution and not legal prosecution against him began.'

The former governor, in a statement by his Media Assistant, Mr. Tony Eluemunor, urged them to always maintain the peace.

Meanwhile, the Court of Appeal in Benin on Wednesday, failed to hear an appeal by the EFCC against the decisions of the Federal high Court in Asaba.

The EFCC is contesting the judgment of Justice Marcel Awokulehin, which quashed the 170-count charge against Ibori.

The five-man panel declined to entertain the matter on the grounds that the case was not an election dispute.

When the matter was mentioned before the appellate court, Ibori's lawyer, Mr. Alege, observed that the case was a criminal matter which should go before the regular appeal court.