Justice Mohammed Idris of a Federal High Court in Lagos on Wednesday adjourned indefinitely further proceedings in the trial of a former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu.
Kalu, a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress, APC, is facing charges of N3.2 billion fraud.The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is prosecuting Kalu together with his former Commissioner for Finance, Ude Udeogo, and a company, Slok Nigeria Ltd., for the alleged offences.
On October 31, 2016, the EFCC preferred 34 charges, bordering on N3.2 billion fraud against the a accused.The charges were, however, amended and increased to 39 counts.Kalu and others had each pleaded not guilty to the charges and were granted bail.Justice Idris, who had been sitting as a trial judge in the criminal charge against Kalu, was elevated to the Court of Appeal last year.
He had, however, been conducting the trial in the case, following a fiat, authorising him to continue with the trial.The matter was adjourned on two consecutive times November 5, and 12, 2018 because Kalu was absent from trial.Although the defence counsel had informed the court that he was away for medical treatment in Germany, the court had revoked his bail and ordered that at the point of his entry into the country, he must submit himself and all relevant travelling documents to the EFCC, failing which he would be arrested.
The court had then adjourned the case until January 23, for the continuation of trial. At Wednesday’s proceedings, the Prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), appearing for the prosecution, informed the court that in spite of its order, the accused had refused to submit himself or his travelling documents to the EFCC.
He argued that such attitude constituted a clear disregard for the court, adding that in the circumstance, he would urge the court to give effect to the provisions of Section 352(4) of the ACJA and continue with the trial of the accused even in his absence.
According to Jacobs, the court should order defence to call its witnesses, failing which the court is allowed by the provisions of the law, to close their case.
Responding, Counsel for the accused, Mr. Awa Kalu (SAN), expressed his displeasure with the submissions of the prosecution, noting that such arguments as canvassed by Jacobs should be put in an affidavit for the defence to reply.
The court, however, in its reaction, informed parties that although the case had been adjourned for the continuation of the trial, the fiat issued by the President of the appellate court, Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa, expired at the end of November 2018.
He said that on January 10, he had received fresh fiat in respect of some other matters before him, adding that the case in point was not mentioned.
Idris said for this reason, he had strong doubt if he should continue with proceedings, adding that it was important he acted with abundant caution.“I should not proceed further; otherwise, I will be acting without authority. So, in the circumstance, I am of the view that further proceedings shouldn’t go on until I receive further instructions,” he said.