The court freed Mr Okorocha of the N2.9 billion corruption charges after dismissing the charges filed by the anti-graft agency, citing abuse of the court process.
The High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, on Friday, discharged a former Imo State governor, Rochas Okorocha, of corruption charges filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The judge, Yusuf Halilu, freed Mr Okorocha after dismissing the charges filed by the anti-graft agency, citing an abuse of court process.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that this is the third time courts have freed Mr Okorocha in respect of alleged fraud and corruption said “to have been committed while he was the governor of the state from 2011 to 2019.’’
Mr Halilu held that it was wrong for the EFCC to continue to file similar charges against a defendant in different courts when a court of competent jurisdiction had already given a verdict on the matter.
NAN reports that Stephen Pam of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt had, in a judgement in 2021, dismissed the EFCC’s charge against Mr Okorocha.
He declared the investigation upon which the charge was based as illegal, unlawful, null and void.
The judge then made an order prohibiting the EFCC from further prosecuting the former governor over any alleged offence relating to the said investigation.
The commission, however, on 24 May 2022, laid siege to Mr Okorocha’s residence in Abuja, arrested him and subsequently arraigned him and six others.
They were alleged to have embezzled the sum of N2.9 billion belonging to the government of Imo.
Mr Inyang Ekwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja had, in a ruling delivered on 6 February, struck out the charge for contravening Section 105 (3) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015.
The court agreed with Mr Okorocha that an earlier judgement of a court of coordinate jurisdiction sitting in Port Harcourt in suit number: FHC/PH/FHR/165, between him and EFCC.
It restrained the agency from further hearing the alleged offence subsisted.
Challenge of fresh charges
Dissatisfied, the commission approached the High Court of the FCT and filed another set of charges against the former governor.
But Mr Okorocha, through his lawyer, Ola Olanipekun, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), in an application, challenged the competence of the charge, claiming it was an abuse of the court process.
Delivering the ruling in the application on Friday, Mr Halilu held that it was wrong for the EFCC to bring a suit that a court of coordinate jurisdiction had already decided.
The judge said this was especially so as there was an order of the court restraining the anti-graft agency from prosecuting Mr Okorocha over the outcome of an investigation the court had nullified.
The judge said there was nothing more that described an abuse of court than the action of the commission by going ahead to file the same suit in three different courts.
He said that although by law, the EFCC was conferred with a wide range of investigatory and prosecutorial powers; it must learn to operate within the ambit of the law.
The judge added that the EFCC, being a creation of law, must be a respecter of the same law.
The judge said that nobody or agency was above the law and advised the EFCC to accept that there must be an end to litigation.