Asset declaration: Court refuses to issue bench warrant against Ekweremadu

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Ike Ekweremadu, Deputy Senate President

The Federal High Court, Abuja, on Thursday turned down application for a bench warrant to be issued against the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu following his absence in court to stand trial for non-asset declaration charges.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) recalls that charges were brought against Ekweremadu over his alleged refusal to declare his assets to the Special Presidential Investigative Panel for the Recovery of Public Assets.

In her ruling, Justice Binta Nyako, held that the action was hasty and cannot be justified.

Nyako said she was not unmindful of the fact that Ekweremadu had earlier filed processes to challenge the jurisdiction of the court.

She said the defendant had also challenged the legal competence of the two-count criminal charge the panel preferred against him.

Nyako, also held that it was not necessary for the court to issue a bench warrant against the defendant.

The judge then adjourned the matter until Feb. 26, 2019, to hear Ekweremadu’s preliminary objections.

Mr Celsius Ukpong, counsel to the panel had argued that Ekweremadu ought to have physically appeared before the court to either enter his plea to the charge, or to query the validity of his trial.

He informed the court that the defendant was duly served with all processes in the charge that was entered against him on May 11.

The prosecution accused Ekweremadu of deliberately making himself unavailable in court so as to frustrate his trial.

He, therefore, applied for an order of court to compel security agencies to arrest and produce him before the court for arraignment.

However, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo,(SAN), counsel to the defendant prayed the court to dismiss the motion which he described as “highly un-meritorious.’’

Awomolo said it was more “honourable’’ for the panel to withdraw the charge since the Court of Appeal has declared its operations as illegal.

Awomolo tendered a copy of the appellate court’s judgment that was delivered on Nov. 5.

He further said the higher court made it known that the panel had no prosecutorial power under the law.

The panel had in the charge marked FHC/ABJ/CR/62/2018, alleged that Ekweremadu refused to declare his assets in a manner it prescribed for him.

It also alleged that the defendant ignored several invitations extended to him to “clarify issues in the allegation of excessive wealth or suspicious assets.”

Nonetheless, the appellate court, in its judgment in a suit marked CA/A/278/2018, filed by Ibrahim Tumsah held that the penal lacked prosecutorial powers.

Tumsah, a former Director in the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, instituted the appeal after the Federal High, Court in Abuja permitted his assets to be seized by the panel