By Davidson Iriekpen
Former Minister of Aviation, Femi Fani-Kayode, has asked Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court in Lagos to disqualify himself from adjudicating over the charges filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The EFCC had arraigned Fani-Kayode and a former Minister of Finance, Senator Nenadi Usman, on a 17-count charge of laundering about N4.6billion.
They were charged along with Yusuf Danjuma, a former National Chairman of the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) and ex-Chairman of Kagarko Local Government Area of Kaduna State,
Also charged is a company, Jointrust Dimentions Nigeria Limited which is said to belong to Danjuma,
They had all pleaded not guilty.
In a fresh application filed to challenge the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case, Fani-Kayode said as a former EFCC lawyer who had filed criminal charges against him in the past for which he was discharged and acquitted, he would not get justice under Justice Hassan.
He said upon conclusion of his tenure as the Minister of Aviation in 2007, the EFCC had investigated him for sundry matters that culminated in criminal charge. No FHC/L/523C/2008.
Fani-Kayode stated that Justice Hassan, presiding in the present matter, was the commission’s lead counsel that reviewed his case and concluded that he should be charged to court for criminal prosecution.
The former minister said Justice Hassan as the then EFCC senior counsel, who prepared and filed the charge sheet against him, believed while instituting the criminal process that a prima facie criminal case had been established against him before preparing drafting and filling the criminal charge No FHC/L/523C/2008 against him.
He said he was subsequently arraigned before the Lagos Division of the court on a 47-count criminal charge personally signed by Justice Hassan as a senior prosecuting counsel for the EFCC in 2008.
According to him the charges instituted against him bordered mainly on his activities as minister of aviation.
He contended that Justice Hassan, being at that time an EFCC senior prosecuting counsel in drafting and preparing the charge against him must have believed or formed an opinion about him as EFCC prosecuting counsel that as the minister of aviation, he must have abused his office and corruptly enriched himself and thereby committed a financial crime against the country.
He added that as a result of the charges, he was prosecuted by the anti-graft agency for about seven years before he was finally discharged and acquitted by the court, resulting in the striking out 45 of the 47 counts and leaving only two counts, which went to trial and from which he was subsequently discharged and acquitted.
Fani-Kayode therefore urged the judge to recuse himself from the pending proceedings before him because of the likehood of bias, having drafted a charge in a financial crime matter as a staff of a prosecutorial agency now having to prosecute yet again a financial crime before him.
In consequence of the afore-said, he believes that the court as presently constituted does not guarantee fair trial, neither is he guaranteed of the court neutrality impartiality or fair hearing of his case before the court.
He said the judge might already be prejudiced by the facts and content of the charge counsel of the EFCC now prosecuting him before Justice Hassan which he believes is the likely perception of a reasonable man who might have heard or seen the scenario above.
Fani-Kayode also asked the court to move the case to Abuja, saying from his review of the totality of the present case including the proof of evidence that all the transactions leading to the alleged offence all occurred in Abuja while he was the Director of Media and Publicity of the Goodluck Jonathan presidential campaign organisation (PCO) with its office in Abuja outside the Lagos Division of the court.
He said since he lives in Abjua and transacted all the businesses of the PCO that led to this criminal charge in Abuja as shown by the proof of evidence, it was proper to move the case to Abuja.
The former minister argued that since all his proposed witnesses, including majority of the prosecution witnesses and branches of financial institutions involved in the matter all reside and conduct their businesses in Abuja outside the Lagos Division of the court it would be proper to move the case to Abuja moreso as he is presently standing trial in a sister case in Abuja in charge No FHC/ABJ/CR/140/2016 Fderal Republic of Nigeria V. Chief Femi Fani Kayode at the Federal High Court, Abuja Judicial divisions of the court.
The case will comes up for hearing on February 8, 2017.