EFCC: Transfer of Fayose’s case to new judge, CJ acted in error — Lawyer

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Olalekan Ojo and counsel, to the second accused in the ongoing trial of the former governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose has stated that the Chief Judge (CJ) of the Federal High Court of Nigeria, Justice Adamu Abdul-Kafarati acted in error to transferring the case to another judge for trial.

The former governor was on October 22, 2018, arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) alongside his company, Spotless Limited, on an 11-count charge of alleged N3.3 billion fraud before Justice Mojisola Olatoregun.

On March 20, there was an open altercation in court between Justice Olatoregun and the prosecuting counsel, Rotimi Jacobs. And as a result of the altercation, EFCC wrote a petition against the judge to the CJ.

In the petition dated May 21, and signed by the acting Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, EFCC raised the need to transfer the case from Justice Olatoregun. It noted that it became imperative on the grounds that it had “lost confidence” in her.

Based on the petition against, Justice Olatoregun, the CJ, on May 23 granted EFCC’s prayer and reassigned the case to Justice Chukwujeku J. Aneke.

Justice Olatoregun had earlier fixed June 10 for continuation of trial in the matter but on getting to the court, the defendants’ counsel were informed that CJ had reassigned the case to Justice Aneke.

Reacting to the development shortly after coming out of Justice Olatoregun’s court, Ojo expressed his displeasure over the verdict of CJ on the matter.

He said the decision of the CJ to transfer the case to another trial judge was a breach of law.

“This matter was adjourned till today for continuation of hearing but today we heard that it had been reassigned to Justice Aneke for fresh hearing.

“This development is very strange to us, having regards to the fact that the prosecution had called 12 out of their 13 witnesses, having regards to the fact that the current legal regime governing criminal trial in Nigeria and the Federal High Court which is ACJA 2015, stated that any matter where two or three witnesses have been called cannot be transferred to another judge.

“But in this case, 12 witnesses have been called; therefore, with all due respect, the honourable CJ perhaps innocently acted in breach of the law, considering Section 98 (2). Besides, there is a decision of the Court of Appeal, a case of FRN against Lawal; in the matter the court ruled that CJ has no right to transfer part-heard case like the present one; I’m aware that the defendants are prepared to explore the remedy available to them in law to have the administrative decision of CJ set aside.

“It is inimical to fair trial; it is inimical to defendants to have their case expeditiously tried.

“It also brings about a possible case of jeopardy. We believed that this is a violation of the law and I think it is not because of Fayose is involved but it is important that we get this order declared nullility, in the interest of all of us, stakeholders in the administration of criminal justice.

“It is waste of public funds, time. We see it as bad precedent; we are worried; it could be anybody tomorrow. It was surprised that it was the prosecution that triggered it. Already, we have filed a motion before the Court of Appeal on it,” he said.

Meanwhile, Justice Aneke has fixed June 28 for the re-arraignment of the accused.

In granting the prayer of the EFCC, the CJ, on May 23, reassigned the case to Justice C. J. Aneke.

A copy of the letter, which granted the EFCC request reads: “I refer to the petition of EFCC on this case and your Lordship’s comments thereto.

“It is apparent that the prosecution has lost confidence in the judge trying this case and justice must not only be done but must be seen to have been done. I hereby transfer this case to Hon. Justice C. J. Aneke for hearing.”