Alleged fraud: S’Court dismisses probe panel’s indictment of Amaechi

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The Supreme Court of Nigeria has dismissed the indictment of former Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi, by a judicial commission of inquiry set up by Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, to probe allegations of fraud against him (Amaechi) while he was governor.

Delivering judgment on May 27, 2022 in an appeal filed by Amaechi against Wike and nine others, the apex court refused to stop the planned probe of Amaechi over alleged N96billion but described Wike’s Judicial Commission of Inquiry’s work as a mere report that is “not enforceable” in law, with absolutely “no legal force.”

The lead judgment, delivered by Justice Emmanuel Agim, held further that although Wike reserved constitutional powers to set up a Judicial Commission of Inquiry, the commission clearly had “no judicial powers or power to adjudicate”, ruling categorically that the commission’s probe was “not a civil or criminal trial” of Amaechi or anyone else, and that “its findings (whatever it is) is not a conviction (of Amaechi or anyone else) but a mere investigation.”

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Although the apex court resolved most of the issues for determination in favour of the respondents, it, however, pronounced that Wike’s commission “is not a criminal investigation agency such as EFCC, ICPC and the Police.”

The 74-page judgment read: “The legal nature and status of a commission of inquiry, by whatever name called and irrespective of the authority that set it up, is already long settled by a long line of judicial decisions over time and, therefore, should no longer be open to dispute.

”I am, therefore, surprised that it is a subject of dispute in this case. A commission of inquiry is a fact-finding or information seeking body. It carries out its fact-finding or information seeking by the process of impartial investigation to find out certain facts or information about the subject of the inquiry.

”It is not an adjudicatory body and so does not try or determine disputes as to any rights or obligations of liabilities. It is more commonly used in public governance as part of the administrative process to facilitate public governance.

“In Nigeria, provisions are made for its use by the Constitution and other statutes. In Rivers State, its use in the public governance of the state is provided for by the Commissions of Inquiry Law of Rivers State Cap 30 Laws of Rivers State 1999.

“The purpose of the investigation is to find out the facts or gather facts on the subject matter of inquiry. In doing so, it is not trying any person for the commission of any misconduct or crime. It does not engage in the trial of any person for anything. It merely gathers facts on the subject of the inquiry.

“Even if it makes findings of facts that are adverse to a person, such adverse findings do not amount to a conviction for an offence or determination of his right and obligation. They remain mere finding of facts on the basis of which it would make recommendations to the appointing authority who may accept or reject them.

“The accepted recommendations are not enforceable like a court decision. They are administrative decisions, on the basis of which disciplinary processes, criminal processes and public funds and properties recovery actions can be initiated by the executive government.

“So a Commission of Inquiry is not a court and does not pretend to be one. It is not a criminal investigation agency such as EFCC, ICPC and Police.

”Its findings of facts would make easier the work of criminal investigating agencies as it would readily provide all the facts that would enable them decide whether there is a reasonable basis for an investigation and prosecution of any person for a crime.

“In our present case the terms of reference of the commission show clearly that its function and duty is to inquire into the sale of the sale of Omoku 150mw Gas Turbine; Afam as Turbine; Trans Amadi 136mw Gas Turbine and Eleme 75 Gas Turbine.“

”The sale of Olympia Hotel, the Mono Rail Project, the non-execution of the contract for the construction of the Justice Adolphus Karibi White Specialist Hospital after the payment of the sum of $39,200,000 to the supposed contractor, the disbursement for use by the Rivers State Ministry of Agriculture of the sum of N2billion Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund and the withdrawal and expenditure of the accrued N96billion from the Rivers State reserve fund without compliance with the Rivers State Reserve Fund Law No. 2 of 2008 and find out the correct state of facts concerning them and make appropriate recommendations.

”The whole purpose for the inquiry is obvious from the terms of reference. It is not a civil or criminal trial.”

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