A Lagos High Court Sitting In Ikeja Yesterday Freed Former Managing Director Of Defunct Bank PHB, Francis Atuche Who Was Standing Trial For Allegedly Stealing N25.7 Billion.
A Lagos High Court sitting in Ikeja today struck out a N25.7 billion charge brought by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against a former Managing Director of the defunct Bank PHB, Mr. Francis Atuche. Atuche and his wife, Elizabeth, were standing trial alongside a former Chief Financial Officer of the bank, Ugo Anyanwu. They were charged to court by the EFCC for allegedly stealing N25.7billion from the bank while Atuche was the Chief Executive Officer. Justice Babajide Lateef Lawal-Akapo discharged the trio after finding that the court lacked jurisdiction and that the prosecution’s case lacked merit.
“I find no merit in the prosecution’s application, it is hereby dismissed,” the trial judge said. He added, “The defendants’ application dated Nov. 27, 2013 succeeds and I hereby make the following orders: “The criminal charge in this suit is hereby struck out and the accused persons namely; Francis Atuche, Elizabeth Atuche and Ugo Anyawu are discharged. “The complainant’s notice of preliminary objection dated Dec. 3, 2013 is hereby dismissed.” Counsels to the defendants, Chief Anthony Idigbe (SAN) and Sylvia Ogwemoh (SAN) had in the pending application asked the court to quash the charge, citing the Court of Appeal judgment of November 21, 2013.
Idigbe said the appellate court in the judgment struck out the theft charges preferred against a former Managing Director of Finbank Plc, Mr Okey Nwosu and others for lack of jurisdiction. Idigbe argued that Atuche’s application is challenging the jurisdiction of the court; and that it would amount to it assuming jurisdiction in respect of the matter should the court grant the EFCC application.
He explained that the fate of his client cannot and should not be tied to Okey Nwosu’s case which has been appealed against at the Supreme Court, urging the court therefore to dismiss the application. However, the EFCC in another application filed by its counsel, Mr. Dele Adesina (SAN) on March 2, asked the court to adjourn ruling on the application indefinitely.
Adesina said this was pending the outcome of the EFCC’s appeal against the judgment at the Supreme Court. Responding to the EFCC position, Idigbe stressed that Atuche’s application is challenging the jurisdiction of court and that granting EFCC’s application will amount to the court already assuming jurisdiction on the matter. Justice Lawal-Akapo in his ruling upheld the submissions of the defense that the court lacked jurisdiction to hear the matter. “The allegation of purchase of shares and stocks is contained in 15 out of the 27 count charge brought against the accused. “The case falls squarely within the precincts of the decision of the Court of Appeal in Okey Nwosu as well as Erastus Akingbola’s case.
“The decision of the Court of Appeal becomes the extant law on the subject to the effect that any allegation of purchase of shares and stocks in any manner or coloration falls within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court. “The Federal High Court as opposed to the State High Court has jurisdiction pursuant to Section 211(d)(h) of the 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended.”
The court also held that it is bound by the decisions of a higher court, saying, “However learned a lower court may consider itself to be, the lower court is bound by the decision of the higher court and this is based on the doctrine of stare decisis in the Nigerian legal system. “Consequently, this court is bound by the decision of the Court of Appeal in the Federal Republic of Nigeria v Okey Nwosu and the Federal Republic of Nigeria v Erastus Akingbola.”