Nigerian law enforcement agencies have an immediate duty to arrest a former militant leader, Government Ekpemupolo, also known as Tompolo, and produce him in court, after a judge on Thursday ordered his arrest, a government lawyer charging him for corruption has said.
Judge Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court said an arrest warrant had to be issued after Tompolo failed to respond to invitations to appear before the court.
The judge said the process of compelling a defendant to appear before a court is to first serve him a summons.
“When he fails to appear, the other way to compel his compliance is by way of arrest,” said Mr. Buba.
“The court is in the position to order the warrant for the arrest of Mr. Government Ekpemupolo, also known as Tompolo, and shall be issued forthwith,” he said.
Festus Keyamo, counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, said a summons was served on Mr. Ekpemupolo at his home in Warri on Wednesday.
“We obtained an order from this court two days ago and we were able to go to Warri yesterday and pasted at his gate as ordered by the court,” said Mr. Keyamo.
Mr. Keyamo applied, under Section 131 of the Administration of Criminal Justice, 2015, for the issuance of an arrest warrant for Mr. Ekpemupolo.
“The first accused person (Mr. Ekpemupolo) has consistently, even at the point of investigations, spurned all invitations to make statements,” he said.
“He even took out a paid advertisement saying nobody should push him to war. In a country with laws? That’s why we are applying for a warrant for his arrest, to let us know if he’s an outlaw.”
Mr. Keyamo told journalists outside the court room that it would be up to the law enforcement agents to ensure Mr. Ekpemupolo’s presence at the next adjourned date.
“It’s left to the law enforcement agencies to effect his arrest. One individual cannot be bigger than the Federal Republic of Nigeria,” he said.
“It’s as simple as that, though it is for them to prove that they are, in fact, in charge of law enforcement in the country.”
Mr. Ekpemupolo and Patrick Akpobolokemi, the former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, are accused of a multibillion naira fraud at the agency.
Others charged alongside the duo are Global West Vessel Specialist Ltd, Odimiri Electrical Ltd, Kime Engozu, Boloboere Property and Estate Limited, Rex Elem, Destre Consult Ltd, Gregory Mbonu, and Captain Warredi Enisuoh.
Joseph Nwobike, counsel to Patrick Akpobolokemi, the former Director-General of the National Institute for Maritime and Safety Administration (NIMASA), pleaded for more time for Mr. Ekpemupolo to appear before the judge.
“He was served just yesterday and in the interest of justice he may, perhaps, need some time to come to court,” said Mr. Nwobike, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
Mr. Nwobike urged the judge to use his discretion before issuing the summons.
But the judge argued that a substituted service is not granted when an individual is easily accessible.
Six defendants, including Mr. Akpobolokemi who limped into the court room in crutches, were present during Thursday’s proceedings.
Mr. Akpobolokemi, who is also facing two other multibillion naira fraud cases, was bundled into a waiting bus by EFCC operatives last December after he refused to follow them to their office for questioning.
His lawyer made a subtle attempt to bring the incident to Mr. Buba’s attention but the judge said he only knew about what transpired in his court room.
Mr. Nwobike said his client was almost detained by the EFCC save for the intervention of Rotimi Williams, another EFCC prosecutor.
“If I had not put my name down, he would not have been released. Whenever they want his (Mr. Akpobolokemi) presence, they can let me know.”
The judge told the counsel he could “never” be a surety to an accused person.
“Let us not get the wrong impression that counsel is a surety for an accused person,” he said.
The judge adjourned the matter till February 8.
“I have not remanded anybody. If you are on remand, remain on remand. If you came from home, go back to your home. Make sure you are present on the next adjourned date,” he said.