Lawyer refuses to testify in former Governor's trial

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A legal practitioner, Kingsley Ekwem on Tuesday declined to testify as a prosecution witness in the on-going trial of the former Abia State Governor, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu and two others facing trial for alleged N3.2 billion fraud.

Ekwem was supeanea by the court to come and tender some documents that were said to have emanated from his chamber and testify on same, rather, the legal practitioner urged the presiding Judge, Justice Mohammed Idris to set aside the summons served on him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to testify in the matter.

Arguing an application he filed to challenge the court’s summons, the lawyer said he would not be able to testify in the matter owing to the existing relationship between his chambers and the third defendant in the case (Slok Nigeria Limited).

He said: “On Monday evening, a witness’ summons was served on me at the behest of the prosecution to come and testify in respect of a document issued from our chambers sometimes in 2004. I am urging the court to set aside the summons on the ground that I am not a compellable witness to testify on issues that borders on professional communication between our law firm and the third defendant.

“I am not a compellable witness because it could lead to a breach of professional communication between our law firm and the third defendant. I am not permitted by law to testify except and unless the third defendant expressly consent that I should do so”.

The lawyer cited Section 192 (1) of the Evidence Act 2011 as well as Rule 19 (1) of the Rules of Professional Conducts for Legal Practitioners 2007 to buttress his points.

Responding, EFCC’s lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) said the application was based on mere apprehension that was not founded in law.

He argued that the lawyer could only raised any objection he had when he was to be put on oath while inside the witness box.

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“The lawyer ought to enter the witness box to obey the court’s order. It is only when he is to be put on oath that he can raise his objection. It is at this point that we can address the court on whether or not he is a competent and compellable witness”, he said.

Jacobs noted that apart from the fact that the lawyer had already made statement to the EFCC, the document upon which he was to be examined was already an exhibit before the court.

In his submissions on the issue, Kalu’s lawyer, Chief Awa Kalu (SAN), urged the court to consider Sections 185 and 192 (1) of the Evidence Act in granting the application.

He argued that the EFCC cannot put the lawyer in the witness box because the prosecution witness through which the document was tendered as an exhibit by the commission had informed the court that it was obtained through a search warrant.

Awa Kalu said it was curious that despite the fact that the document was recovered in the course of investigation by the EFCC since 2004, the commission has not gone to the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) to substantiate its claims that Dr. Kalu was a Director at Slok Nigeria Limited., while serving as Abia State Governor.

“I urged the court not to compel the applicant to testify to prevent the EFCC’s ulterior motive of incriminating the first defendant (Dr. Kalu) from becoming a reality”, he said.

Other defence lawyers also aligned themselves with the submissions of Chief Awa Kalu (SAN).

In particular, Slok’s lawyer, K. C. Nwofo (SAN), while urging the court to grant the motion said: “Slok has not consented to the lawyer being called to testify in the matter”.

Meanwhile, ruling on the lawyer’s application has been fixed for February 1.