Thrice prosecuted in court, thrice discharged is the political career trajectory of Ex-Imo Governor and serving Senator, Rochas Okorocha, as he was again on Friday discharged but not acquitted of corruption charges filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Justice Yusuf Halilu of an Abuja High Court freed Okorocha after dismissing the charges filed by the anti-graft agency, describing it as an abuse of court processes.
Persecondnews recalls that this is the third time Okorocha will be freed by the courts over the allegations of fraud and corruption to the tune of N2.9 billion.
The offenses were allegedly committed while he was the governor of Imo State from 2011 and 2019.
The court declared that it was wrong for the EFCC to continue to file similar charges against a defendant in different courts, particularly when a court of competent jurisdiction had already decided the matter.
Justice Stephen Pam of the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt had in a 2021 judgment, quashed the EFCC charge against Okorocha after it declared as illegal, unlawful, null and void the investigation upon which the charge was based on.
Consequently, the judge prohibited EFCC from further prosecuting the former governor over any alleged offence relating to the said investigation.
On May 24, 2022, the commission arrested Okorocha after over six hours of siege at his Abuja residence and arraigned him in court and six others before a Federal High Court in Abuja.
The trio was alleged to have embezzled N2.9 billion belonging to the Government of Imo State.
However, in a ruling delivered on February 6, Justice Inyang Ekwo, struck out the charges for contravening Section 105 (3) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015, which gives the Attorney-General of the Federation the power to recall a case.
Ekwo held that the directive of the Attorney-General of the Federation in a letter dated September 12, 2022, to the EFCC to forward the case file with its comments on the issues for consideration and review was binding on the commission.
The court agreed with Okorocha that the earlier judgment of a court of coordinate jurisdiction sitting in Port Harcourt in suit number FHC/PH/FHR/165 between him and EFCC restraining the agency from further proceeding on the alleged offense subsists.
Dissatisfied with the judgment, the EFCC had approached an Abuja High Court and filed another set of charges against the former governor.
But Okorocha, through his lawyer, Chief Ola Olanipekun (SAN), challenged the competency of the charge in an application, claiming it was an abuse of court processes.
Delivering a ruling in the application on Friday, Halilu held that it was wrong for the EFCC to bring a suit that has already been decided by a court of coordinate jurisdiction, especially when there was an order of court restraining the anti-graft agency from prosecuting Okorocha over the outcome of an investigation that has been nullified by the court.
The judge noted that there is nothing more than court abuse in the action of the commission by going ahead and filing the same suit in three different courts.
Halilu, while noting that the agency by law is conferred with a wide range of investigatory and prosecutorial powers, maintained that the commission must learn to operate within the law, adding that the EFCC, being a creation of the law, must be a respecter of the law.
The court noted that the evidence before it showed that a Federal High Court had in 2021 freed Okorocha from fraud and corruption charges brought against him by the EFCC.
He said while the commission did the right thing by appealing the judgment, it ought not to have approached another court of coordinate jurisdiction to file a similar charge against Okorocha.
While warning that nobody or agency is above the law, the court advised the anti-graft agency to accept that there must be an end to litigation.
“Once a case of abuse of court processes is established, the best thing to do is to dismiss the charge; the first defendant is hereby discharged,” Persecondnews quotes the court as saying.