A Federal High Court in Abuja yesterday has reserved ruling till July 7 on the application brought before it by former Governor of Jigawa State, Sule Lamido, on whether to return his trial back to Justice Adeniyi Ademola or not who handled the case before a new trial Judge, Justice Babatunde Quadri, was asked to take over.
Lamido, alongside his two sons, Aminu and Mustapha, and one Aminu Wada Abubakar were accused of receiving N1.35bn kickback from state government contractors.
They are facing 28-count charge bordering on a number of alleged breaches of trust.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is accusing the four suspects of money laundering, fraud, amongst other charges.
However, the case which was before Justice Ademola was later transferred to Justice Quadri for continuation of trial after Justice
Ademola, wife and a lawyer, Joe Agi, were arraigned for corruption related matters.
At the last adjourned date counsel to the defendant, Joe Agi, had filed an application seeking court order to transfer the case file back to Justice Ademola, adding the matter has gone far to be taken over by another judge.
He also sought speedy trial and disposal of the case.
When the case resumed Wednesday, counsel to Lamido, OffiongOffiong, holding brief for Agi, held that after calling 18 witnesses, it was too late in the day to continue it de novo.
He said the Chief Judge of Federal High Court acted in ultravirus to have transferred the case to another Judge especially when Ademola was about giving judgment before his arraignment.
Offiong said: “The Chief Judge action was administrative, which is subject to the Constitution and court pronouncements
“The power of Chief Judge to transfer case is specific as contains in the High Court Act and Administration of Criminal Justice Act in Section 98 (2), and when it comes to precedence the specific overrides the general,” he submitted.
He added: “My submission is that he acted utra-virus in not keeping within the bond of his power and the act is invalid
“The manner the case has been brought to your Lordship is invalid.
He argured further that the Chief Judge in transferring a case must keep within power limiting him as contains in the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, saying “he does not have power to act outside the statures.
“Section 98 (3,4) of Administration of Criminal Justice Act, set provisions if the Chief Judge is to transfer a case. It states that there has to be a petition against a Judge and a panel set up to look into it and after reviewing the petition the Chief Judge can now act on that and in this case there was no such petition.”
Arguing on the issue of likely bias, Offiong said it cannot hold water, especially when the applicants were not members of same community or club with Ademola.
“Our contention is that the Chief Judge didn’t properly transfer the case and so this court does not have power to continue with the case.”
Offiong asked rhetorically, “When a judge has been tried and acquitted does it mean that he cannot hear a case relating to his friend again”
The prosecuting counsel, Chile Okoroma, countered that, saying though the court discharged and acquitted Ademola and Agi, it did not made order that Ademola should be back as Judge.
He held that it was not the issue that took Ademola to the FCT High Court.
Okoromo said: “As it stands now his suspension has not been lifted. The National Judicial Council (NJC) has not made order for his sitting yet, when we are talking about speedy trial, this cannot hold.
“Section 122 (2m) & 124(1a) of the Constitution on matters like this, the court can take judicial notice of, that is Ademola has not started sitting now and no time frame for his return especially as there is appeal against his discharge and acquittal. It means if the case is transferred back to Ademola , the case will be in limbo. .
“To crown it all, Section 182 which the defendants’ counsel cited is subject to the Constitution.
The independence and bias of the court is unassailable and anything that flies in the face of it is in jeopardy”
Okoromo asked the court to take notice that Ademola and defence counsel, Agi were tried together for corruption related case, adding even though they have been discharged and acquitted, it will raise the issue of bias.
“It will be raised more than the ordinary because their trial showed deep affinity between them. What constitutes likelihood of bias, one is friendship, which came to fore at their trial”, he said.
When the Judge asked Okoromo whether Agi will no longet appear before Ademola again?, the counsel replied that if the issue is raised by any counsel it may become a major issue
Okoromo said: “The court looks at what will look like to the ordinary people on the street.
“The grounds the defendants’ counsel want the transfer have no frontier.
“What we have is substantial that relationship between Ademola and Agi is high. This can inhibit the court from taking decision to disfavour his friend when Agi appeals before him again”.
He continued: “No matter the outcome of the case it will impinge on pillars of justice. If he acquits them at end of the day people will say what do you expect, if they are convicted people will say he is in tight corner he wants to please his masters”.
Addressing the issue of the Chief Judge acting in ultraviolet, Okoromo said: “With due regards to his power, the Chief Judge cannot act in utravirus. The argument on general and specific provision do not apply in this case”, he said.
After listening to the submissions of the counsel, Justice Quadri fixed July 7 for ruling.