Justice Raliat Adebiyi of a Lagos State High Court, in Igbosere, on Wednesday, stopped a representative of Mr. Festus Keyamo from prosecuting a N754, 740,680.00 fraud suit filed against a former Director-General of Nigeria Maritime Administration Safety Agency, (NIMASA) Patrick Akpobolokemi.
The judge ruled that Marcel Umeh, a counsel in the chambers of Mr. Keyamo, did not have the fiat of the Attorney-General of the Federation, through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to prosecute the defendants.
She subsequently adjourned the case till May 3, 2016.
The ex-NIMASA boss – alongside six others, is standing trial on a 13-count charge bordering on stealing and forgery. His co-defendants include: Captain Ezekiel Agaba, Ekene Nwakuche, Governor Amechee Juan, Vincent Udoye, Captain Adegboyega Sahib Olopoenia and a company, Gama Marine Nigeria Limited.
The EFCC was billed to continue its trial of the defendants on Wednesday afternoon and it was expected that its regular counsel, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, would be there.
However, Oyedepo was not available when the matter was called and Umeh announced his appearance for the prosecution.
“I’m ready to go on and I have my witnesses,” he stated.
Umeh was then interrupted from calling his first witness by counsel to the second defendant, Mr. E. D. Onyeke, who observed that Umeh had no authority to prosecute the case on behalf of the government or Keyamo.
Onyeke informed the court that he had earlier been notified by Oyedepo that he would not be available and that the case would not go on yesterday.
He said: “Mr. Marcel Umeh works in Festus Keyamo’s Chambers and not the Ministry of Justice or the EFCC. If Keyamo has a fiat from the Attorney-General to prosecute this matter and Oyedepo, an employee of the EFCC, also has the authority to prosecute, it does not apply to Mr. Marcel. Mr. Marcel is only Keyamo’s employee and not that of the EFCC.
“Mr. Marcel is a private legal practitioner and he cannot prosecute this matter as a private legal practitioner.”
Onyeke added that any proceedings effected by Umeh would amount to a nullity and it would thus be in the interest of justice to avoid any procedural error.
He said: “Umeh cannot appear in this case because he does not have the fiat and does not work for the Federal Government.
“If he produces a fiat, we can proceed with today’s proceedings.”
His submission was adopted by counsels to the other defendants, who also urged the court to expunge Umeh’s appearance from the court records.
In his response Umeh admitted that he did not have the A-G’s fiat to handle the matter, but insisted that the defendants had no locus to question his appearance.
He said: “It is settled law that when a lawyer appears, it is taken for granted that he has the fiat of his principal to appear. The right person to contest my appearance for the prosecution is the Attorney-General, not the defendants.”
In a bench ruling, Justice Raliat Adebiyi upheld the defendants’ counsels’ submission.
She ruled: “Learned counsel for the prosecution conceded that he has no fiat to prosecute this matter.
“A fiat cannot be delegated; Marcel Umeh cannot handle this matter unless with the fiat of the Attorney-General.
“This case is hereby adjourned till when Keyamo or a staff of the EFCC can attend court to prosecute it.”