Efforts by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to compel the former Abia State governor, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, to enter into the witness box and explain his role on an alleged N4.7 billion fraud charge brought against him and two others at a Federal High Court in Lagos, failed as the court eventually adjourned the matter till Sept. 26 and 27.
At the resumed hearing of the matter today, Kalu’s lawyer, Chief Awa Kalu (SAN) indicated the readiness of his client to open his defence from outside the box contrary to the EFCC’s insistence that Kalu would be cross-examined after his evidence-in-chief.
Kalu (SAN) added that the former Governor would not be open to cross-examination by the prosecution in line with the dictates of Section 358 (1) (a) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015.
He said his request was predicated on the fundamental principle of criminal law for all defendants anchoring on presumption of innocence.
“Section 358 (1) (a) is not a donation from the court to the first defendant but a statutory provision. A man who can refuse to talk can also refuse to be cross-examined.
“Once a defendant charged with a criminal offence opt to testify from where he is, he is only exercising his rights that flows from the Constitution. The first defendant carries no burden but it is the prosecution that is carrying the burden of prove beyond reasonable doubt”, Kalu (SAN)/said.
Other defence lawyers, Chief Solo Akuma (SAN) and Mr. Kingsley C. Nwofor (SAN) were in support of the position.
Responding, EFCC’s lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) said the ACJA does not regulate evidence in court.
The prosecutor argued that since the first defendant (Kalu) was represented by a legal practitioner in court, he cannot take advantage of the options available for him in Section 358 of ACJA.
“The examination of the witness must be in accordance with the Evidence Act because it regulates how proceedings should go on in court. If a witness is not cross-examined, his evidence cannot be used in court”, he said.
However, in a Bench ruling, Justice Mohammed Idris held that the first defendant is absolutely at liberty to chose from any of the options available under Section 358 of ACJA.
Justice Idris further disclosed that the options in the Section are available to the first defendant whether or not he has legal representation.
After citing the provisions of Section 358 of ACJA, the judge said: “In the circumstances of this case, where a defendant chooses the options under Section 358 (a) of ACJA as the first defendant has done in this case, the first defendant is not given evidence.
“Making a statement is different from giving evidence. A person who gives evidence from the witness box after been sworn-in can also make a statement from wherever he stands. Both options are available to the defendant in any criminal trial.
“If the first defendant has decided to make a statement only, then he will not be cross-examined. He will only be cross-examined where he choses to give evidence”.
After the ruling, Kalu’s lawyer sought for an adjournment for him to decide on the best option to be adopted by his client in putting forward his case.
Though the EFCC’s lawyer was initially opposed to the request, he later agreed after discussion with the defence lawyers.
Further hearing in the matter has been adjourned to September 26.