30th November, 2010
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Tuesday asked an Abuja High Court presided over by Justice Olukayode Adeniyi, to disqualify itself in hearing the criminal action which the anti graft agency initiated against top officials of the National Gallery of Arts. The agency said it no longer felt comfortable allowing both its lawyers and witnesses to appear before that court over the 2.2 billion Naira fraud allegedly committed by the officials of the establishment.
At the proceedings, Â Steve Odiase, the counsel representing the anti graft agency in the matter told the court that the leadership of the EFCC had instructed him to seek an immediate transfer of the case-file to the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, following threats by some undisclosed persons to kill the lawyer over the matter.
Odiase, who was in court in the company of two heavily armed mobile police escorts, read one of the threat massages he received over the matter and added that operations department of the anti graft agency has already commenced investigations to unmask those behind the threats.
Observing that the death of one of the agencyâ€™s forensic expert in Kaduna recently followed similar pattern of receiving threat SMS, the lawyer told the court that he no longer feel protected in the court and therefore applied that the case file be transferred to the Chief Judge for re assignment.
According the EFCC lawyer, the latest SMS read â€œYou still have the honorable option of opting out of Musaâ€™s case now or accept the choice of preparing your funeral oration yourself and or the possible extermination of your family. This is the final warning!â€
Justice Adeniyi however refused to hands-off of the trial as requested by the EFCC, maintaining that there was no basis for the anti-graft agency to seek a withdrawal of the case-file.
According to the Judge, â€œI will not concede to this request because there is no basis to seek the withdrawal of this case, if you are being threatened by anybody, report it to the police or other relevant agenciesâ€
The judge also observed that justice is a â€œthree-way trafficâ€ and that the accused persons were arraigned before the court on July 7, 2009, but that the case has suffered series of adjournment at the instance of the EFCC
Justice Adeniyi further noted that the fundamental right of the accused persons as enshrined in section 36(4) of the 1999 constitution must equally be respected. He condemned such threats to the lawyerâ€™s life in very strong but insisted that he has no time to play to the gallery.
Those on trial are the former Director-General of the establishment, Chief Joe Musa, Director of Finance, Olusegun Ogunba, Director of Research & Education, Dr. Kweku Tandoh and, Deputy Director Administration of the Gallery, Mrs. Oparagu Elizabeth.
They were arraigned ona 14-count charge over an alleged misappropriation, falsification of account and illegal diversion of public funds amounting to over 2.2 billion Naira.
Further proceedings on the matter were subsequently adjourned to 20th January, 2010.
By Nnamdi Felix / Abuja