A Federal High Court in Abuja has halted the planned trial of former Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Kenneth Minimah and two senior Army officers over their alleged complicity in the diversion of public funds estimated at N13,8billion.
The other two are Major General A. O. Adebayo (ex-Chief of Accounts and Budget, Nigerian Army) and Brigadier General R. I. Odi (ex-Director, Finance and Accounts, Nigerian Army.
Justice Inyand Ekwo, in an ex-parte ruling, ordered parties in the suit by the three to maintain status quo ante bellum pending the hearing and determination of the plaintiffs’ pending motion for interlocutory injunctions.
While Minimah served as the COAS between January 2014 and July 2015 and has since retired, Adebayo and Odi are still in service.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) indicted them for complicity in the alleged misappropriation of N13,798,619,309 from the funds provided by the Federal Government for the purchase of military hardware.
The EFCC stated in a court document sighted at the weekend, that the Committee on the Audit of Defence Equipment Procurement in the Nigerian Armed Forces (CADEF) chaired by Air Vice Marshal (AVM) John Ode (rtd) referred a case of misappropriation to it for investigation.
It added that in the course of the investigation, it found that about N13,789,619,309.00 was misappropriated by Minimah, Adetayo and Odi.
The EFCC then filed a charge against the three before the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). The EFCC also wrote the Army authorities, requesting their release for prosecution.
But, on learning about the EFCC’s request for their release, Mimimah, Adetayo
and Odi filed a suit before the Federal High Court, Abuja, querying among others, their planned trial before a civil court.
In the suit filed by their lawyer, Mahmud Magaji (SAN), they are contending among others, that under the Armed Forces Act, the EFCC lacked the powers to initiate criminal proceedings against them, let alone prosecute them.
They argued that the most the EFCC could do under the Act, is to report its findings to their commanding officer, who could only charge them before a court-martial and no other court.
Listed as defendants in the suit, are the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice and the EFCC.
Shortly after the filing of the suit, Justice Ekwo heard an ex-parte motion moved by Magaji and ordered parties to maintain status antebellum (allow things to remain as they currently are) pending the hearing and determination of a motion on notice.
Justice Ekwo ordered the plaintiffs to serve the defendants with all the processes in the case within two days of the order.
When the case came up, Magaji told the court that the case was for mention and that parties have filed all necessary processes, which lawyers to the AGF and EFCC – Habiba Chime and Sylvanus Tahir – confirmed.
Magaji noted that the earlier order of the court for parties to maintain status quo pending the hearing and determination of the motion for injunction still subsists since the motion was yet to be heard.
He prayed the court to allow parties to return on January 14 and 15 for the hearing of the motion and the substantive suit.
Ruling, Justice Ekwo agreed with the plaintiffs’ lawyer and adjourned till January 14 and 15 for hearing.
The judge ordered parties to file and exchange all necessary processes before then.