FORMER Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Intercontinental Bank Plc (now Access Bank), Dr. Erastus Akingbola, yesterday secured a major judicial victory in his ongoing trial at the Federal High Court, Lagos over financial impropriety as the court yesterday discharged him of the 26-count amended charges preferred against him by the Federal Government.
Apart from discharging him of the charges, the court also dismissed the charges and barred the prosecution from appearing before the court or another judge of the Federal High Court over the matter on what the court termed ‘serious and professional incompetence’ of the prosecution team made up of five Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN).
In a dramatic turn of event at Courtroom Seven, the venue of the proceedings, the trial Judge, Justice Charles Archibong, directed the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke (SAN) to disband/sack/debrief the current prosecution team, comprising five SANs and their respective firms from handling the matter for serious abuse of court process and incompetence in their prosecution of the charges against Akingbola.
According to the judge, the prosecution team is ‘a drain on the public purse, a fact the AGF should be mindful of now if he was not before.’
“This prosecution team has chosen to pursue a campaign to scandalise the court, which amounts to serious and professional incompetence in the prosecution of the accused.
“This prosecution team or any part of it shall not be given further audience in this court in relation to the charges against the accused either before this presiding judge or any other judge of the Federal High Court, for the reason, I have given in the foregoing.
“Furthermore I take judicial notice that the accused herein is presently facing charges before the Lagos High Court emanating from his tenure as the managing director and chief executive officer of the Intercontinental Bank Plc, the AGF may wish to regain control of this process and his untrammelled right to prosecute the accused in another charge, he chooses before any appropriate court, as he can of course do so at any time of his choosing.
“Meanwhile, the prosecuting team presently employed is indulging in professional incompetence to the extreme had been unmindful of the accused right to have the case against him clearly stated. They have been dismissive of his right to a ‘speedy’ trial, which in reality should be the credible procedure.
“I therefore dismiss the charges amended or otherwise for this incompetence and abusive prosecuting team. I discharge the accused accordingly and leave the AGF to consider his options.
“This enrolled order shall be served to the AGF and the prosecution team.
“I shall be referring the conduct of the learned senior advocates that led the prosecuting team to the Legal Practitioners Privileges Committee (LPPC) for further consideration and determination of the issues raised.
“The record of this proceedings shall be forwarded to the AGF and the LPPC and this proceedings is at its end,” the court ruled.
Before freeing Akingbola of the charges, the court had earlier in its ruling allowed the prosecution to amend the charges even though it was contested by Chief Felix Fagbohungbe (SAN) counsel to Akingbola on the ground that the prosecution was employing a piece meal approach in its prosecution of the charges.
The court had urged Akingbola to take his plea on the new charge, before Chief Godwin Obla for the prosecution decided to urge the court to take the application for stay of proceedings pending appeal to the court’s earlier decision.
But the drama ensued when the court allowed Obla to move the application for a stay, only for him to ask for adjournment, which he said will enable him compile the record of the appeal, the prosecution filed on February 7, 2012.
Infuriated by this application, Justice Archibong said the prosecution team was incompetent and abusing the court process.
The judge also noted that prosecution were not willing to commence the trial, hence the several applications they are bringing to court at the detriment of the accused right for speedy trial and dismissed the charge.
The prosecution had amended their charge against Akingbola up till three times, before the same judge.
They had even petitioned the judge to the NJC, alleging bias while the current president of the Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) had at one of the sittings walked out on the judge over the ruling of the court.