10th October, 2011
A High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, sitting in Abuja on October 10, 2011, dismissed an application for a stay of proceeding filed by a former House Committee Chairman on Power, Hon. Ndudi Elumelu and his counterpart in the Senate, Senator Nicholas Ugbane, who are being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, over alleged N5.2 billion fraud in the Rural Electrification Agency (REA).
Elumelu alongside Ugbane and Hon Jibo Mohammed had filed the application claiming that the Federal government had accepted and paid for the contract for which they are being prosecuted and therefore should be discharged and acquitted from the trial. They had filed supportive affidavit evidencing letters from the Ministry of power accepting the contract.
But the EFCC, through its counsel, Kemi Phinero, SAN, challenged the application saying that the prosecution of the accused persons should go its full course and judgment delivered on their impropriety.
At the resumed hearing of the case on October 10, 2011, presiding judge, Justice Adebunkola Banjoko ruled that such an application by the accused person was strange as it was brought under the inherent jurisdiction of the court. She specifically said that there was no law to support the application. â€œwhat you are doing is heralding jurisdiction without substance or meritâ€™, the judge ruled.
While adjourning to November 30, 2011, for definite hearing, the judge said that the accused persons should not confuse being charged under a written law, with proof of commission of the offence; adding that the crime in which they were charged amounted to abetting a criminal breach of trust and that they should be prepared to face trial.
It would be recalled that the judge on Wednesday April 20, 2011 warned the accused over deliberate plot to delay trials, even as she expressed dismay over the antics being employed by the trio to delay proceedings. The warning followed complaints by EFCC counsel, Phinero, SAN, who told the court that the Commission was not too comfortable with the delay antics of the accused persons.
Counsel to the second accused person, Patrick Ikweto, SAN, had sent a letter to the court pleading for an adjournment on the ground that he was held up in traffic. Phinero raised an objection to the excuse which he described as frivolous. According to him, â€œIt will be an abuse of court process for the defence counsel, Barrister Patrick Ikweto, SAN, to bring forth a flimsy application that he is cut off in traffic, and cannot attend trialâ€. He added that the last adjournment was at the instance of the same defence counsel which was predicated on an excuse that he was back from a long trip and needed some rest as was directed by his doctor which the court obliged.
Justice Banjoko had agreed with the prosecution counsel, saying that she will no longer entertain any frivolous application from any of the defense counsels. She stated that a prima facie case had been established for the trial of the suspects to proceed. â€œthe accused persons have sufficient grounds to convince the court that they are not guilty by the time the case proceeds to trialâ€, she had said. The trio had also filed an application to quash the criminal charges against them. The application was dismissed as the judge ruled that the accused persons have a case to answer.
The three accused persons were initially arraigned on a 158 count charge bordering on breach of due process, criminal conspiracy, diversion and misappropriation of public funds totaling over N5.2 billionon May 14th, 2009, but the charges were later amended to 62 on October 30th, 2009.