Seriki Adinoyi in Jos
A Plateau State High Court sitting in Jos on Thursday refused to grant an application by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) seeking to return the case-file of a former Governor of the state, Senator Jonah Jang, to the state Chief Judge for reassignment to a new judge.
Trial judge, Justice Christie Dabup who took over the case after the retirement of Justice Daniel Longji in December 2020, declined the application by the EFCC Counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN).
Jang is standing trial alongside Yusuf Pam, an former cashier in the office of the Secretary to the state government on alleged N6.3bn fraud charges brought before the court by the EFCC.
The anti-graft agency first arraigned the duo before Justice Longji on 17 counts bordering on criminal breach of trust and misappropriation of public money in March 2018.
However, after Justice Longji retired in December 2019 after hearing the matter for 34 times, the state Chief Judge, ,Justice Yakubu Dakwak reassigned the case to a ,Justice Christie Dabup who started hearing on the matter afresh. But since the re-arraignment, the court had not made any meaningful progress due to stalled proceedings resulting from repeated absence of the prosecution counsel.
In moving the application for the reassignment of the case, the EFCC counsel told the court that the National Lockdown occasioned by COVID-19 as well as the recent national strike by Judiciary workers had prevented the case from being heard expeditiously.
Jacobs argued that given the fresh commencement of the case due to the retirement of the former judge handling the matter, there was the need to avoid time wastage like in the first trial, especially as the current trial judge may not be able to conclude the case before her own retirement.
The EFCC lawyer therefore urged the court to grant his application and return the case file to enable the Chief Judge reassign the case to a new judge.
He said, Jacobs said “We have not gone far with the case as we still have about nine witnesses to present.
“The time is not so much on the side of the trial judge. The case may suffer the same fate due to time limit. It will be difficult for us to start recalling the witnesses for the third time .And that is what I’m trying to avert
In order to avoid wastage as in the first trial so as to mitigate possible loss to the state and even to the defendant, let the matter be transferred to the State Chief Judge for reassignment”
The EFCC lawyer therefore urged the court to grant his application and return the case file to enable the Chief Judge reassign the case to a new judge
But Counsel to Jang, Mr. Edward Pwajok (SAN) opposed to the EFCC application, describing the request by the anti-graft agency as overbearing.
Pwajok also submitted that EFCC is only a party in the case and therefore cannot determine for the court on what to do with the case.
He argued further that since the court has already taken four witnesses from the prosecution, and only has eight more to present, the court would be able to dispose the rest in good time if the EFCC is serious with the prosecution.
Counsel to Pam, SO Oyewale also opposed to the EFCC application and urged the court to continue with the case or strike it out for lack of diligent prosecution.
After listening to the arguments by both parties, Justice Christie Dabup, in her ruling agreed with the submissions made by the Defense counsels, noting that the court has never forestalled proceedings since she took over the case.
The judge said that since there is no other court designated to handle the case yet, it will be absurd for her to recuse self from the case.
She therefore ordered the EFCC to go ahead with the presentation of more witnesses to enable the court make progress in the case.
Earlier, two witnesses who were recalled by the EFCC, Emmanuel Kpanja and T Yakubu ,both bankers with the Zenith Bank, had narrated how money running into billions of naira were withdrawn towards the end of the tenure of the former Governor but insisted that no money was transferred into the personal account of the former Governor.
A former Permanent Secretary, Habila Dung also testified during Thursday hearing of the case but could not be cross examined by the Defense Counsel due to fatigue.
Justice Christy Dabup adjourned the case till Friday for continuation of hearing and presentation of further hearing on case till Friday banker was brought in by the EFCC as witness.