Law News
I can’t stop Rickey Tarfa’s arraignment, says judge

Justice Mohammed Idris of a Federal High Court in Lagos on Friday said he has no jurisdiction to stop the scheduled arraignment of Mr. Rickey Tarfa (SAN) by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.

Tarfa’s arraignment has been fixed for Thursday, February 18, 2016 before Justice Aishat Opesanwo of a Lagos State High Court in Igbosere.

The senior advocate was charged with two counts of unlawful obstruction of EFCC investigation and perversion of the course of justice.

On Friday, Justice Idris refused to grant Tarfa’s ex parte application that his mobile phones and his Mercedez Benz SUV with Registration No. KJA 700 CG seized by the EFCC should be immediately released to him.

Justice Idris,in a short ruling, however asked the EFCC not to do anything that will violate Tarfa’s fundamental rights as guaranteed by the constitution pending the determination of a N2.5bn suit he filed against the EFCC to challenge his alleged unlawful arrest and detention.

Operatives of the EFCC had on the evening of Friday, February 5, 2016 arrested Tarfa on the premises of the Lagos State High Court in Igbosere, where he allegedly hid two suspects in his jeep, to prevent them from being arrested.

He was subsequently detained in his lawyer’s gown alongside the suspects – Gnahouse Nazaire and Senoue ‎Modeste –  who are his clients from the Republic of Benin.

He was, however, granted an administrative bail on Sunday evening and released to the President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Augustine Alegeh (SAN).

He later filed a N2.5bn fundamental rights enforcement suit against the EFCC following his release on bail.

On Friday, six out of the 34 Senior Advocates of Nigeria, who had enlisted to represent Tarfa in court, showed up before Justice Idris with an ex parte application, seeking the release of his mobile phones and his jeep.

The six SANs, who were led by Chief Bolaji Ayorinde, are Dr. Joseph Nwobike, Mr. Babajide Koku, Mr. Abiodun Owonikoko, Mr. Adeniyi Adegbonmire, and a former Attorney General of Ogun State, Mrs. Abimbola Akeredolu.

Though the EFCC was not put on notice that the SANs were coming to court on Friday, its young prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, however, showed up in court, saying he had got the winds of their moves.

Oyedepo told the court that though he had heard of Tarfa’s N2.5bn suit against the EFCC since February 9, the senior lawyer had however yet to serve the EFCC with the court papers.

He undertook to accept service in court and he was subsequently served while hearing was fixed for February 19.

Following acceptance of service, Ayorinde urged Justice Idris to make a consequential order that parties should maintain status quo.

But Oyedepo opposed him, saying such an order will restrain the EFCC from carrying out the proposed arraignment of Tarfa before Justice Opesanwo next Thursday.

“I will urge Your Lordship not to hearken to that prayer. As of today, the applicant before Your Lordship is to be arraigned before your learned brother Honourable Justice Opesanwo of the Lagos State High Court next week Thursday.

“The defendant has been notified to produce the applicant on that date.

“If Your Lordship makes an order to maintain the status quo, then the honourable court would be crippling the defendant from arraigning the applicant,” Oyedepo argued.

He described Ayorinde’s application as a scheme to frustrate Tarfa’s arraignment and urged the judge “not to fall for that temptation.”

But  Ayorinde protested that Oyedepo misunderstood the essence of his application for status quo, pointing out that since Tarfa was granted administrative bail he had been mandated to report daily to the EFCC’s office, where he spent the whole day without being able to go about his business.

After listening to them, Justice Idris held, “I have listened to the learned senior counsel in this suit; it is clear from the affidavit evidence before this court that the applicant herein was served with a criminal charge in suit No LD/2417c/16 between FRN v Rickey Tarfa.

“This court will not, therefore in the circumstances, make any order that will obstruct the free flow of that matter; I have no such jurisdiction. This is on the one hand.

“On the other hand, while this suit is pending, no party shall take any step that will foist the fait accompli or render nugatory, any judgment the court will give at the conclusion of trial.”

He adjourned till February 19 to hear the substantive suit.

Earlier, Ayorinde had noted that the 34 Senior Advocates, who put in appearance for Tarfa, did not come to court on a protest march but due to the “seriousness of the case.”

But in response, Oyedepo said he wished that such a number of SANs would one day volunteer to take up an EFCC case against corrupt governors on pro bono.

“When we see this number (of SANs) standing against a governor in the country, we will move forward,” Oyedepo said.

Replying him, Ayorinde, however, said SANs were ready to take up EFCC cases on pro bono, but they must be approached properly.

He said, “You cannot say we are criminals, you cannot say we are your headache, it is a balanced thing, we just want you to be fair.”

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