JUSTICE John Tsoho of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja on Monday washed his hands off the trial of the 23 officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) accused of receiving N360 million bribe from Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State during the December 10, 2016, re-run election in the state.
The Judge specifically transferred the case to the Port Harcourt Division of the court on the ground that his court lacked the territorial jurisdiction to hear and determine the suit against the INEC officials.
While ruling on the preliminary objection raised by the defendants challenging the jurisdiction of his court to hear the case in Abuja, Justice Tsoho held that the Federal government ought to have filed the charges in Port-Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, where the offences were allegedly committed.
The Judge said the prosecution was unable to furnish his court with cogent evidence of insecurity in Port Harcourt to warrant the filing of the charges in Abuja, instead of Port-Harcourt.
He said the impression created by the prosecution that there was “pervasive insecurity” and that the city had become ungovernable was not backed with any evidence.
According to the Judge, the “frightening pictures” attached to the prosecution’s counter-affidavit had no proof of location and time of the incidents, adding that there was no evidence presented to the court to back the claim by the prosecution that there were daily reports of threat by cult groups in the state.
Justice Tsoho held that in the absence of such evidence, the clear provisions of section 93 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 and section 45 of the Federal High Court Act, which both provided that charges must be filed in the area or place where the alleged offences were committed “shall apply”.
Consequently, the judge ordered the transfer of the case to Port Harcourt Division of the Federal High Court for the arraignment of the defendants.
The Federal government had on March 7, 2017, through the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation filed a seven-count charge against the 23 defendants for allegedly receiving N360 million bribe from Wike in connection with December 10, 2016, rerun elections in River State.
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