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Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Senator’s Trial Can’t Proceed Without EFCC’s Consent– Court

Senator’s Trial Can’t Proceed Without EFCC’s Consent– Court

Senator Peter Nwaoboshi

Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court in Lagos Tuesday held that the trial of the Senator representing Delta North Senatorial District, Peter Nwaoboshi, will not go on without the consent of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

The judge, who was elevated to the Court of Appeal after the case had begun, said both parties must agree for him to have jurisdiction to continue to adjudicate on the case.

EFCC arraigned Nwaoboshi, Golden Touch Construction Projects Limited and Suiming Electricals on April 25 for alleged N322million fraud.

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Two witnesses had testified for the prosecution before Justice Idris was elevated to the Court of Appeal in June.

Based on a request by Nwaoboshi and the other defendants, the Court of Appeal President Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa granted Justice Idris a fiat to enable him conclude the case before resuming at the appellate court.

But the EFCC opposed the fiat, saying it would prefer that the case be transferred to another judge to begin afresh.

EFCC lawyer Mr M.S. Abubakar argued that Nwaoboshi’s case did not fall within the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) definition of “part-heard” criminal cases which an elevated judge could continue with.

According to him, Section 494 of the ACJA, which defines part-heard matters, refers to cases in which the prosecution had called all witnesses and closed its case, pointing out that EFCC had only called two of six listed witnesses.

Urging Justice Idris not to continue with the case, he argued that Section 396 (7) the ACJA, which requires elevated judges to conclude part-heard matters, “is grossly unconstitutional.”

But, Nwaoboshi’s lawyer Dr Valerie Azinge (SAN) said she was surprised that the EFCC, which always accused high profile defendants of adopting delay tactics to frustrate their trial, was the one opposing Senator Nwaoboshi’s application for a speedy trial.

She said Section 396 (7) of the ACJA was enacted to cure delays that arise from judges’ elevation, adding that EFCC ought to champion its enforcement rather than rejecting the fiat granted Justice Idris.

Ruling yesterday on whether or not to continue with the case, Justice Idris emphasised that while the ACJA was designed to achieve speedy dispensation of justice in criminal cases, all parties must be on board.

He said when together, sections 396 (7) and 494 of the ACJA were drafted to prevent judges who have been elevated to the Court of Appeal from being bugged down by high court cases to the point where it prevents them from assuming their duties at the Appeal Court.

“In the circumstances of this case, where a fiat has been issued by the President of the Court of Appeal pursuant to Section 396 of the ACJA, and the matter not being a part-heard matter pursuant to Section 494 of ACJA, the court in my view will only have jurisdiction where both parties consent or agree that the matter should go on,” he said.

Justice Idris said all stakeholders must make the ACJA achieve its potential, adding: “All the stakeholders in the administration of criminal justice must be determined and committed to the process of effective change.”

He said the ball was no longer in the judiciary’s court as it behooves parties to “walk the walk and not talk the talk, because in the end it is not the talk but the walk that matters…”

Justice Idris added: “I hold for the avoidance of doubt that the fiat issued by the Honourable President of the Court of Appeal in this matter was validly issued pursuant to Section 396 (7) of the ACJA.

“However, because the prosecution has not yet closed its case to the satisfaction of Section 494 of ACJA, this matter can only proceed for continuation of trial when both parties agree to give their consent,” the judge held.

The prosecution alleged that Nwaoboshi and Golden Touch Construction Projects purchased a 12-storey property known as Guinea House, Marine Road, Apapa, Lagos for N805million between May and June 2014.

The anti-graft agency claimed that N322million out of the N805million was part of proceeds of “an unlawful act, to wit: fraud.”

The defendants pleaded not guilty.

Justice Idris adjourned till today to enable EFCC reconsider its position.

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