Twelve years after the trial of a former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on Thursday adjourned the N4.6 billion fraud case indefinitely.
Kalu is standing trial alongside his Commissioner for Finance, Udeh Jones Udeogu, and a firm, Slok Nigeria Limited.
At Thursday’s proceedings, Justice Mohammed Idris (now elevated to the Court of Appeal), who defied the nationwide strike by the Nigerian Labour Congress, informed lawyers and other litigants present in court that since it was clear that the fiat given to him by the President of the Court of Appeal to adjudicate on the case will elapse by the ending of this month (September), it will be of no use for him to continue with a case that he will not be able to complete.
Justice Idris thereafter announced the indefinite adjournment of the matter to enable him to resume fully at the Appellate Court.
Recall that Justice Idris had on Wednesday directed the defendants to open their defence in the N4.6bn fraud charge made against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The Commission had dragged the former Abia Governor, alongside his finance commissioner and SLOK before Justice Idris over an allegation of fraud to the tune of N4.6 billion. But they pleaded not guilty to the said allegation.
At Wednesday’s proceedings, Mike Ozekhome SAN who appeared for the first defendant informed the court of defence’s application challenging the jurisdiction of the court to continue with the trial of the accused.
Moving his application, Ozekhome told the court that his motion was brought pursuant to the 1999 Constitution as amended.
He argued that his four-ground application challenges the constitutionality of Justice Idris to continue to try the accused, having been elevated to the court of appeal.
“This Judex, having being elevated as a Court of Appeal judge, cannot continue to sit as a Federal High Court Judge to try this charge; it is illegal unlawful and unconstitutional,” he said
In his argument, Ozekhome referred the court to the provisions of sections 238, 239, 240, 252 and 253 of the Constitution, arguing that the provisions make it clear, that the court of Appeal which is “peopled” by justices cannot sit as a court of the first instance but only on Appeal.
On his part, the prosecutor, Mr Rotimi Jacobs SAN, opposed the application challenging the court’s jurisdiction on the grounds that it was a ploy to stall the case which he argued had lingered for so long.
He urged the court to refuse the application and call upon the accused to begin his defence adding that a fiat had already been issued for the judge to continue with the trial which is already at its concluding stage.
Moreso, prosecution argued that the said fiat was sought for and obtained by the defence, adding that it would be unfair for the defence to do a turn around at this point. He urged the court to proceed with the trial.
Delivering a bench ruling Justice Idris held that he would resist the temptation of delving into issues which were already filed on Appeal.
He noted that although the issues raised by defence counsel were recondite, he would, however, apply caution in his ruling.
“I have listened to the learned senior counsel and again the issues raised are live issues already before the learned law lords of the Court of Appeal.
“Being already before the appellate court, it cannot be a live issue in this court; I shall exercise caution so as not to make comments on issues to be determined by the appellate court.
“Trial shall proceed,” he said.