A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Wednesday, warned former officials of the Nigeria Football Federation to avoid any actions capable of frustrating speedy prosecution of a matter, brought before it by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
The case, which has been adjourned till February 25, is based on a charge challenging the anti-graft agency over an application brought before it by four former officials of the Football Federation seeking to quash charges of corruption levelled against them by the agency.
Sani Lulu Abdulahi, Amanze Uchegbulam, Bolaji Ojo-Oba and Taiwo Ogunjobi, all former officials of the Football Federation, are standing trial before Justice Donatus Okorowa on a seven count charge bordering on corruptly using their offices to confer unfair advantage on themselves, defrauding the federal government to the tune of over N1.3 billion naira and $2 million (N300m) and also unlawfully issuing 1,263 tickets as complementary offers to friends, associates, political support groups and family relations.
When the matter came up for hearing yesterday, Lulu, had, through his counsel Sunday Ameh, applied for an extension of time to enable him file his written addresses out of time.
Before he adjourned the case, Okorowa said economic crimes are sensitive and ought to be diligently and speedily prosecuted. Therefore, he said, the court will not tolerate any attempt to delay the case and afterwards gave the prosecutor four days to respond to the motion brought by the former Football Federation boss seeking to quash the charges brought against them by the anti-graft agency.
He also gave Lulu’s defence counsel four days to respond on point law to the reply of the prosecution.
Accused of misrepresenting Nigeria
The accused persons were also alleged to have booked the Hampshire Hotel, South Africa, for the Super Eagles regardless of the fact that it was cheap, substandard, and unbefitting and an unlisted hotel among the approved list of hotels by the Federation of International football Association, FIFA, for lodging participating teams. The federal government had to pay $125,000 as fine for a breach of contract when it changed hotels subsequently.
Jurisdiction of the court
Ameh challenged the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the charges brought against them by the anti-graft agency, saying that it is only FIFA that has jurisdiction to prosecute them. All other defence counsels agreed with Ameh.
However, prosecution counsel, Olasupo Ashaolu, at the resumed hearing of the case, opposed the application with a 22-paragraph counter-affidavit praying the court to reject the applications of all the defence counsels, saying they lacked merit.
Ashaolu further said the crime committed by the accused persons was committed in Nigeria and as such, “coming to this court and saying they cannot be tried by Nigerian laws, except FIFA, is an aberration”.
The prosecution counsel also faulted the argument by the accused persons to the effect that the agency did not seek and get the prosecutorial consent of the Attorney General of the Federation, before commencing trial.
According to Ashaolu, the agency did not need a fresh consent of the Attorney General of the Federation to prosecute the case, as the agency has all the powers and right conferred on it by the Establishment Act to prosecute all economic and financial crimes.
Ashaolu also said the approval of funds by the Federation officials were in itself, an offence; “as there is a limit to which they can appropriate funds as clearly indicated in the Procurement Act for contract approval”.
He submitted that the applications by the accused persons are meant to delay trial. He therefore urged the court to discountenance the applications in their entirety and allow trial to commence