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Supreme court on Amaechi’s appeal: Rivers panel lacks legal force, merely investigative

  The Supreme Court has ruled that panels of inquiry do not have the powers of a law court to adjudicate over issues.   The apex court s...

 


The Supreme Court has ruled that panels of inquiry do not have the powers of a law court to adjudicate over issues.

 

The apex court said this while delivering judgment in an appeal instituted by Rotimi Amaechi, former minister of transportation, seeking to stop his probe in an alleged N96 billion fraud.

 

Nyesom Wike, Rivers state governor, had set up a seven-man panel to probe Amaechi over alleged withdrawal of N96 billion from the state’s treasury during his tenure as governor.

 

Among the several issues for determination, Amaechi asked the court to determine whether the judicial commission of inquiry “can competently investigate and probe” him.

 

In their decision, a seven-member apex court panel held that the two lower courts were right in their pronouncement that the commission of inquiry has the right to investigate and probe the appellant.

 

The court noted, however, that the panel “is not an adjudicatory body and so does not try or determine disputes as to any rights or obligations of liabilities”.

 

“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,” the apex court said.

The apex court stated that whether or not the commission makes adverse findings concerning a person, they can only make recommendations to the constituting authority and the findings do not amount to a conviction.

 

“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,” the supreme court held.

 

“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. If it rejects them, the matter ends there. If it accepts them and decides to take necessary action on the accepted recommendation, the white paper accepting the recommendation can be challenged in court.

 

“The accepted recommendations are not enforceable like a court decision. So a commission of Inquiry is not a court and does not pretend to be one.”

 

The court added that the fact that a commission was headed by a serving or retired judicial officer “cannot invest it with judicial powers or character and did not change its nature as a fact-finding or information seeking body with no power to adjudicate or in any manner determine any rights or obligations or try any person for the commission of 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 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 Thirty Nine Million and two hundred thousand Dollars to the supposed contractor, the disbursement for use by the Rivers State Ministry of Agriculture of the sum of Two Billion Naira Agricultural Credit Guarantee Scheme Fund and the withdrawal and expenditure of the accrued Ninety-Six Billion Naira 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 of the inquiry is obvious from the terms of reference. It is not a civil or criminal trial.

 

“It is also our very view and we hold that the 3rd respondent (the judicial commission of inquiry) is a fact-finding and an investigative body. Generally, a body exercising powers which are merely investigative in character and which do not have any legal force.”

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