Orji Uzor Kalu
By Tobi Soniyi
Former governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Uzor Kalu, has a case to answer with respect to a criminal charge filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal ruled Friday.
In a unanimous judgment, a panel of three justices led by Justice Ejembi Eko struck out the appeal by the former governor and his company Slok Nigeria.
Kalu had approached the appellate court to set aside the ruling of the Federal High Court that he had a case to answer.
Some of the issues raised for determination by Kalu’s counsel, Awa Kalu (SAN), included the declaration by the appeal court that Kalu and Slok Nigeria were arraigned on a non-existent law and that the proof of evidence did not disclose a prima facie case against the appellants.
He further stated that since the Abia State High Court had issued an ex-parte motion on the matter, the Federal High Court lacked jurisdiction to entertain the case.
He also sought the leave of the appellate court to enforce his fundamental human rights by declaring his arrest, detention, and arraignment a nullity. His company, Slok Nigeria Ltd, also sought similar leave.
They asked the court to determine whether EFCC and the federal government were competent to prosecute a case involving the revenue of a state.
In the ruling read by Justice Eko on behalf of Justices Kayode Bada and Regina Nwodo, the appellate court resolved all the grounds of appeal in favour of the respondent and dismissed the appeal for lack of merit.
Justice Eko noted that the proof of evidence attached to the 97-count charge preferred against the appellants by EFCC disclosed a prima facie case against him.
According to him, the facts raised in the proof of evidence established a prima facie case against the appellants and that they should go and stand trial.
He further ruled that the ex-parte order of May 31, 2007 by Abia State High Court asking the Federal High Court to stay all proceedings against Orji was a suit aimed at frustrating his arrest and subsequent prosecution.
Justice Eko said: “That order was an order at large, personal rather than definite. It was an order made as an ex-parte and not at the course of trial.” He described the ex-parte motion as an abuse of court process.
Justice Eko said the claim of breach of personal freedom by Kalu was sentimental in nature.
”This claim borders on the realm of conspiracy theory and is politically-motivated. Right to personal liberty is not absolute,” the judge stated.
On whether EFCC was legally competent to charge the appellants, the court maintained that both the EFCC Establishment Act and the Money laundering and Prohibition Act (MPLA, 2003, 2004) give the commission power to prosecute offenders.
He said: “EFCC derives its competence to prosecute from Section 6 and 7 of its Establishing Act. Equally, the definition of economic crime is quite wide."
Kalu said he remained unbowed by the judgment.
In a statement last night, the former governor said he remained unshaken in his position that he did not tamper with the commonwealth of the people of Abia State.
He said he was only paying for his decision to stand against some people who were bent on ruining the country while they were in power.
Kalu said the records were there and that his achievements would speak for him that while he was in charge of the government Abia State he did not take a kobo from the coffers of the state.
Prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, expressed satisfaction with the judgment.
He said the court ruling had vindicated his position that the Abia High Court order was intended to protect Kalu from prosecution.
Jacobs said the verdict exposed the hollowness of the position of the former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Michael Andoakaa that the order must be obeyed.
The EFCC had on July 27, 2007 arraigned Kalu before an Abuja High court on a 107-count charge of money laundering, official corruption and criminal diversion of public funds totaling over N5 billion.
On August 5, 2007, Kalu wrote a letter to late President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua, urging him to order EFCC to discontinue the trial, complaining that the commission failed to obey a May 31, 2007 Abia State High Court order for stay of proceedings pending the determination of a motion before it.
President Yar'Adua, replying through Aondoakaa, promised Kalu that the Abia High Court ruling would be respected.
On September 3, 2007, Kalu filed a motion at the Abuja High Court asking for an order to strike out all EFCC charges against him and to vacate the terms and conditions of the bail earlier granted by the court.
During the September 5, 2007 hearing of Kalu's motion, a lawyer from the AGF’s office appearing for Aondoakaa urged the court to comply with the Abia High Court ruling.
Earlier, both the EFCC lawyer and the Justice Minister's representative clashed over which of them had the power to prosecute Kalu.