- Lack of preparation by Justice Ngwuta stalls his trial
Davidson Iriekpen in Lagos and Alexander Enumah in Abuja
The embattled judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, got a rude shock wednesday when operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) knocked on her door at about 5 a.m. to conduct a fresh search of her residence.
It was gathered that the operatives who arrived in large numbers, surrounded the house at No. 18B Lai Ajayi Bembe Street, Park View Estate, Ikoyi, Lagos.
This is coming eight days after a court had asked the anti-corruption agency to be professional in performing its duties.
Wondering why EFCC conducted the surprise raid on the home of a person who had already been arraigned in court, one of her lawyers described the search as “unlawful and an abuse of human rights”.
The EFCC had arraigned Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia alongside Mr. Godwin Obla, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), on November 28, before Justice Hakeem Oshodi of the Lagos High Court, Ikeja, on a 30-count charge bordering on conspiracy to pervert the course of justice, offering gratification to a public official, and unlawful enrichment by a public official, among others.
Ofili-Ajumogobia and Obla were in EFCC detention for about two weeks before they were arraigned.
The defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Thereafter, counsel to Ofili-Ajumogobia, Mr. Wale Akoni (SAN), and counsel to Obla, Mr. Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), moved applications for them to be granted bail.
They were granted bail in the sum of N20 million and on self-recognition.
The next day, a court threw out Ofili-Ajumogobia’s fundamental rights suit, and urged EFCC to be professional in its conduct.
Justice Muslim Sule Hassan of the Federal High Court in Lagos had lashed out at EFCC over the way and manner it carried out its probe of Ofili-Ajumogobia, while delivering judgment in the N50 million fundamental rights enforcement suit filed by her against the anti-graft agency over her prolonged detention.
In another corruption-related suit against a Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, his trial was stalled yesterday, following claims by the defendant that he was not fully prepared for his trial.
Ngwuta is being prosecuted by the federal government on a 16-count charge for corruption, money laundering and other financial crimes.
He has however pleaded not guilty to the charges and was granted bail on self-recognition.
Trial judge, Justice John Tsoho of the Abuja division of the Federal High Court, delivering ruling on the bail application had fixed yesterday for the commencement of the trial.
But when the matter was called, lead counsel to the defendant, Mr. Kanu Agabi (SAN), told the court that even though his team was anxious to prove the innocence of their client, they were not fully prepared to commence the trial as scheduled.
Citing relevant portions of the constitution and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), Agabi asked the court for an adjournment in the interest of justice to enable his client prepare adequately for his defence.
The counsel also requested the court to order the prosecution to upload all documents it intends to use in the trial, so that the defence could be fully prepared.
Responding, prosecution counsel, Charles Philips-Adeogun expressed surprise over the position of the defence, recalling that on the last adjournment it was the consensus of both parties that the trial would commence wednesday.
He drew the court’s attention to Section 396(3) of the ACJA that provides for the day-to-day trial upon arraignment.
While objecting to the application for adjournment by the defence, Philips-Adeogun also submitted that there was no document to avail the defence, as all documents to prosecute the trial had already been uploaded to the defence.
He told the court that if the matter was adjourned, it would be a huge inconvenience for the prosecution, adding that he and his colleague are based outside Abuja, including the three witnesses they had planned to call to testify in the matter.
He suggested that in the alternative, the court should allow the prosecution to open its case while the defence could choose to do its cross-examination at the next adjourned date.
Delivering ruling on the application, Justice Tsoho, who held that Section 36 of the Constitution provides that a defendant be given adequate time to prepare for his defence, however, noted that that same section of the constitution covers a wide scope to include both the emotional and psychological disposition of the defendant.
He noted that no reasonable person would have a criminal charge hanging over his head and would not be anxious to clear himself.
He said granting the application would enable the defendant have a settled disposition for the trial.
Tsoho also stated that while Section 396(4) of the ACJA allows for five adjournments by the defendant, he was just making use of the first one.
The judge consequently granted the application and adjourned till January 18 and 23, 2017 for trial to commence.
Justice Ngwuta was one of seven judges whose homes were raided by the Department of State Services (DSS) last October on allegations of corruption.