Justice Chuka Obiozor of the Federal High Court in Lagos Monday issued a bench warrant for the arrest of a former governor of Enugu State, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, for refusing to appear in court for his re-arraignment.
Nnamani, who was governor between 1999 and 2007, is facing a 10-count charge of laundering N5.3 billion instituted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The judge also ordered the arrest of Nnamaniâ€™s aide and co-accused, Sunday Anyaogu.
Justice Obiozor, who was livid, said: â€œThere is no evidence shown to the court as to why the defendants are absent, there is no justification for the continued absence of the defendants.
â€œIn the absence of any convincing evidence, it is hereby ordered that a bench warrant be issued against the defendants and summons to their sureties to show cause.â€
He adjourned till December 14 for the re-arraignment of the defendants.
Both defendants were first arraigned in 2007 alongside their companies â€“ Rainbownet (Nig) Ltd, Hillgate (Nig) Ltd; Cosmo FM, Capital City Automobile (Nig) Ltd, Renaissance University Teaching Hospital, and Mea Mater Elizabeth High School.
In 2015, all the companies pleaded guilty to the charges but the trial of Nnamani and Anyaogu has been stalled due to the former governorâ€™s frequent trips abroad to treat a heart ailment.
On Monday, Justice Obiozor, the fourth judge to handle the matter, made it clear to the defence lawyer that he would not tolerate any attempt to further delay the trial.
The visibly angry judge said: â€œIt is not a case of more haste, less speed. The defendant may not be guilty but the matter must be heard in court.
â€œAfter 10 years, we are still talking about arraignment and re-arraignment and tomorrow weâ€™ll see the headline that the judiciary is to be blamed.â€
Earlier, Shamsudeen Abubakar, counsel to Nnamani, told the court that his client, who is â€œseverely sickâ€, had just undergone heart surgery in the United States and was still recuperating in hospital.
â€œWe received the hearing notice to appear before you in respect of this matter just last Thursday,â€ Mr. Abubakar, a lawyer from the Ricky Tarfa Chambers, informed the judge.
â€œUnfortunately, the first defendant (Nnamani) is bedridden in a hospital in America. When this matter came up on November 30, we tried to reach out to the family.
â€œI was reliably informed that the defendant had heart surgery and we wanted to get a medical report but unfortunately we could not.â€
Abubakar said his client had regularly attended his trial and that the absence was not a deliberate act.
Asked by the judge why Nnamani stopped attending trial since 2015 when his surgery was only last month, the defence lawyer said it was the period the said companies had pled guilty to the charges.
â€œThe first and second defendants are appearing in this case in their personal capacities and have nothing to do with the companiesâ€™ guilty plea,â€ the judge said.
â€œIâ€™m not for or against anybody. You tried to reach the family of the first defendant and could not but you were aware he went to surgery,â€ he added.
Kelvin Uzozie, counsel to the EFCC informed the court that the photographic evidence by the defence lawyer to prove Nnamaniâ€™s recuperation in a US hospital had been in circulation since 2014.
â€œI donâ€™t need to tell the defence lawyer what to do, the (defendantsâ€™) sureties are supposed to be here to show cause as to why the defendants are not here.â€
Editorâ€™s Note: THISDAY check reveals that Nnamani had a major heart bypass and he is recuperating in the USA.