By Tobi Soniyi
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Monday re-arraigned the suspended chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market, Hon. Herman Hembe and his deputy, Hon. Azubuogu Ifeanyi before Justice Peter Kekemeke of an Abuja High Court sitting in Apo.
The case was transferred from Justice Abubakar Sadiq Umar’s court to Kekemeke’s, following a petition by the EFCC alleging bias on the part of the former trial judge.
The anti-graft agency expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that the accused lawmakers were allowed to stand by the side of the dock, against its application for them to be in the dock throughout the trial period.
But sources within the commission said that the transfer was an admission that the case was baseless and liable to be dismissed.
Following the allegation of bias against Justice Umar, the Chief Judge of the FCT, Justice Lawal Gummi, reassigned the matter, for fresh trial.
When the matter was mentioned yesterday, prosecuting counsel, Onjefu Obe, made an oral application for the accused persons to take a fresh plea, in line with the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC).
But counsel to the accused persons, Mr. Jibrin Okutepa (SAN) and Emeka Etiaba, did not object to the prosecution’s prayer, they, nonetheless, urged the court to allow the accused remain on the bail terms earlier granted by Justice Umar, moreso that they have kept faith with the stipulated conditions, one of which is to attend trial proceedings.
Okutepa, counsel to Hembe, also protested what he considered an attempt by the EFCC to “intimidate and ridicule the Nigerian judiciary.”
Describing the commission’s request to have the case transferred, Okutepa said: “My Lord, I owe a duty to the court to protest why we are here, because the circumstances under which the prosecutor caused the case to leave your learned brother is worrisome to us.
Before your learned brother, we had taken five witnesses and the prosecution closed its case, and we filed a no case submission and prosecution took a date to reply, only for the Director of Legal Services, Chime Okoroma, to get up before your learned brother and accused him of applying double standards.
“Thereafter, a lot of water has passed under the bridge, he added.
Counsel to the 2nd accused, Etiaba, aligned himself with the above submission, adding that his client, who had unsuccessfully challenged the jurisdiction of the first court, was not prepared to do so again, in order to allow for accelerated hearing.
Both prosecuting and defence counsel agreed for an accelerated trial, as court adjourned till January 23 and 24. For trial.
EFCC, is prosecuting Hembe and Ifeanyi on a two-count charge of abusing their privileges as chairman and deputy chairman respectively, when they allegedly converted into personal use the sum of about N600,000 being money allegedly released by the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), for them to travel to the Dominican Republic for a refresher conference in October, 2011.
The offence is contrary to Section 308 of the Penal Code Act, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004.