One of the lawyers to Mr. Peter Ayodele Fayose, the former governor of Ekiti State, who is standing trial for alleged N3.3 billion, before a Federal High Court, Lagos, Mr. Olalekan Ojo, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), today, said the Court’s Chief Judge, Justice Adamu Abdul-Kafarati, committed constitutional error for transferring the case to another judge for trial.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had commenced the trial of Fayose and his company, Spotless Limited, on an 11 count charge of alleged N3.3 billion fraud before Justice Cecilia Mojisola Olatoregun, on October 22, 2018.
But Fayose had pleaded not guilty to all the counts of the charge.
On March 20, there was an open altercation in court between Justice Olatoregun and the prosecutor Rotimi Jacobs, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN). And as a result of the altercation, the anti-graft agency wrote a petition against the judge to the court’s Chief Judge.
In the petition dated May 21, and signed by the acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, had called for the transfer of the case from Justice Olatoregun.
It noted that it became imperative on the grounds that it had “lost confidence” in her.
Based on the petition against, Justice Olatoregun, the C. J, on May 23 granted EFCC prayer and reassigned the case to Justice Chukwujeku Joseph Aneke.
But before the transfer of the case, Justice Olatoregun had earlier fixed June 10 for continuation of trial in the matter but on getting to the court, the defendants’ counsel were informed that CJ has reassigned the case to Justice Aneke.
In granting the prayer of the EFCC, the CJ, on May 23, reassigned the case to Justice C. J. Aneke.
A copy of the letter, which granted EFCC request, read: “I refer to the petition of EFCC on this case and your Lordship’s comments thereto.
“It is apparent that the prosecution has lost confidence in the judge trying this case and justice must not only be done but must be seen to have been done. I hereby transfer this case to Hon. Justice C. J. Aneke for hearing”.
Speaking of the transfer of the case after coming out of Justice Aneke’s court, Ojo expressed his displeasure over the verdict of CJ on the matter.
Ojo (SAN) stated that the decision of the CJ to transfer the case to another trial judge was a breach of Constitution and law.
Ojo said: “this matter was adjourned till today for continuation of hearing but today, we are today it has been reassigned to Justice Aneke for fresh hearing.
“This development is very strange to us, having regards to the fact that the prosecution has called 12 out of their 13 witnesses, having regards to the fact the current legal regime governing criminal trial in Nigeria and the Federal High Court which is Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, stated that any part heard matter where two or three witnesses have been called cannot be transferred to another judge.
“But in this case 12 witnesses have been called, therefore, with all due respect, the Honorable CJ perhaps innocently acted in breach of the law, considering Section 98 (2). Besides, there is a decision of the Court of Appeal, a case of FRN against Lawal, in the matter the court ruled that CJ has no right to transfer part heard case like the present one, am aware that the defendants are prepared to explore the remedy available to them in law to have the administrative decision of CJ set aside.
“It is inimical to fair trial, it is inimical to defendants to have their case expeditiously tried. It also brings about a possible case of jeopardy. We believed that this is a violation of the law and I think it is not because of Fayose is involved but it is important that we get this order declared nullity, in the interest of all of us, stakeholders in the administration of criminal justice.
“It is waste of public funds, time.
“We see it as bad precedent, we are worried, it could be anybody tomorrow. It was surprised that it was the prosecution that triggered it. Already, we have file motion before the Court of Appeal on it”.
Meanwhile, Justice Aneke has fixed June 28 for the re-arraignment of the accused.
The EFCC in the a charge against Fayose and his company, stated that the dou on June 17, 2014, Fayose and one Abiodun Agbele took possession of N1.2 billion, for purposes of funding his gubernatorial election campaign in Ekiti State, which they reasonably ought to have known formed part of crime proceeds.
Fayose was alleged to have received a cash payment of $5million (about N1.8 billion) from a former Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, without going through any financial institution and which sum exceeded the amount allowed by law.
He was also alleged to have retained the sum of N300 million in his bank account and took control of the aggregate sums of about N622million, which he ought to have known formed part of crime proceeds.
The former governor was also alleged to have procured De Privateer Limited and Still Earth Limited, to retain the aggregate sums of N851 million in his bank account, which he reasonably ought to have known formed part of crime proceeds.
The accused was also alleged to have used the aggregate sums of about N1.6 billion to acquire property in Lagos and Abuja.
Fayose was also accused to have used N200 million, to acquire a property in Abuja, in the name of his elder sister, Moji Oladeji.
The offences contravene the provisions of sections 15(1), 15 (2), 15 (3), 16(2)(b), 16 (d), and 18 (c) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2011