The National Industrial Court (NIC), last Thursday, ordered the reinstatement of Mounir Gwarzo, the suspended Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), with all his salaries and allowances paid to him.
In his ruling, Justice Sanusi Kado held that the minister of finance, who is the second defendant in the suit, lacked the power to suspend Gwarzo, even as he dismissed three issues raised by defence counsel through their preliminary objection, ruling that the suit was not statute barred.
But stakeholders in the Nigerian stock market may have to wait awhile, pending the determination of an appeal filed before the Abuja Division of the appellate court by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), against the April 16 ruling by Justice Hussein Baba-Yusuf of the FCT High Court 4.
Justice Baba-Yusuf had while discharging and acquitting Gwarzo and a former Commissioner of SEC, Zakawanu Garuba free of alleged N104.9m severance package and car allowance fraud ruled that ICPC failed to establish a ₦115.8m fraud case against the duo.
According to TransparencIT, a civic tech organisation working to control corruption and accelerate justice and service delivery by enhancing transparency and active citizenship, the case lingered for all of 315 days, a situation it blamed on repeated adjournments. These, it noted, violated Section 396 (4) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) that the interval between each adjournment should not exceed 14 working days (and that) where it is impracticable to conclude the case, and the parties have exhausted their five adjournments, interval between one adjournment to another should not exceed seven days inclusive of weekends.
The court ruled that ICPC has failed to establish a ₦115.8m fraud case against ex-Director General of Security & Exchange Commission, Mr. Munir Gwarzo & 1 other. The court, therefore, discharged and acquitted the defendants of all charges. Case tried in 315 days.
In last Thursday’s ruling, Justice Kado further held that the issue in dispute was not about the position of the claimant as the DG of the commission; the bone of contention was who had the power to suspend him.
The Minister of Finance, he noted, lacked the power to suspend the claimant since he was not an employee of the commission, noting that only the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, on the directive of the president, had the power of suspension.
In its notice of Appeal, before the Abuja Division of the appellate court, the ICPC said that Justice Baba-Yusuf erred when he freed Gwarzo and a former Commissioner of SEC, Zakawanu Garuba.
ICPC’s Lawyer, Raheem Adesina, citing 12 grounds why the appellate court should order for a retrial of the accused persons as well as re-assign the case to another judge said that justice Baba-Yusuf’s reasons for the acquittal of Gwarzo were against the extant laws that set up SEC and other federal government agencies.
Adesina also stated that the Federal Government was denied justice when the trial judge set aside the provisions of ‘Certain Political, Public and Judicial Office Holders (Salaries and Allowances) Act, 2008’ amended, which prescribed only N5.8 million severance package, when he ruled in favour of Gwarzo.
Adesina further argued that it was a travesty of justice for Baba-Yusuf to rule that the SEC board has all the powers to fix the severance package and other remunerations against extant laws of the land.
He added that the trial judge ignored obvious evidence before him, and deliberately avoided interpreting the document tendered by ICPC that showed only the payment of retirement and resignation benefits was permissible for political appointees that have spent two years and above in SEC.
Expectedly, stakeholder reactions to the court judgments have been varied, with some welcoming the development, even as others have accused ICPC’s lawyers of half-hearted prosecution of the case, as they keep presenting only the issue of the severance package, as if that was all.
But members of the Consolidated Capital Market Stakeholders Forum (CCMSF) insist the ruling portents danger for the development of the Nigerian capital market.
CCMSF in a statement by its President, Umar Usman urged the Federal Government to appeal the judgment, given that Gwarzo also has several other issues of corruption that are yet to be concluded.
Also speaking on the issue, the National Chairman, Progressive Shareholders Association of Nigeria, Boniface Okezie, urged the Federal Government appeal if it so desires, given that “(Mrs. Kemi) Adeosun (the then Finance Minister), when she took the decision to suspend Gwarzo, did not do it as a person. The ministry is still there as an institution, so they can appeal the decision”.
He However blamed the government for the confusion over the status of suspended Gwarzo and called for the appointment of a substantive board for the SEC, which “for over four years has been without a board… this is not good enough.
“If the board was there everything would have been done by the board and all these would not have happened. The ministry does not need to interfere with the work of SEC because the commission is supposed to be independent”, he added.