A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Friday, ordered the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) to take over the N5 billion suit the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) preferred against Sen. Stella Oduah and others after their arraignment.
Justice Inyang Ekwo, who gave the order shortly after the defendants took their non-guilty plea, said the order was necessary in view of the controversy the case had generated since instituted.
Justice Ekwo had, on June 15, ordered the EFCC to fish out persons behind breaching his privacy through text messages on his phone and another group who petitioned the chief justice of Nigeria regarding the ongoing suit.
The judge also directed the deputy chief registrar of the FHC in charge of Litigation to liaise with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to obtain the identities of the promoters of the organization for the purpose of bringing them to the court, saying the sanctity of the court must be maintained.
The development had stalled the arraignment of the defendants, as the judge insisted that the anti-graft agency must produce the people behind such action in court.
He then adjourned the matter until July 17 (Monday).
But on Monday, counsel who appeared for EFCC, Hassan Liman, SAN, prayed the court to allow the defendants to take their plea, having filed the charge against them on Dec. 17, 2020.
Liman begged the court to allow the arraignment of the defendants while the agency continued with the investigation.
The senior lawyer told the court that the investigation carried out so far by the commission had been able to reveal the identity of the person, who sent a message to the judge, via the telephone number.
According to the lawyer, he is said to be one Mr. Okolo Obinna Johnson, a promoter of two companies.
However, Liman said that the anti-graft agency made all efforts to track the physical person, in conjunction with other security agencies, but was yet to be successful.
He assured that the EFCC would not leave any stone unturned in bringing the culprit to book.
Unsatisfied with Liman’s information, the judge insisted they the EFCC should produce the person before arraignment.
Besides, Justice Ekwo also gave Liman details of the information of the group called, Anti-Corruption Network, which wrote the petition to the CJN.
Ekwo said the order given to the deputy chief registrar, Litigation of the court to get the certified particulars of the organization involved in the matter at CAC had been carried out.
He then gave copies of the particular to Liman for further investigation, saying the order to arrest the person was still subsisting.
“The order was to find him, bring him to court and let me deal with the matter,” he declared.
He expressed displeasure in the manner the trial was allowed to degenerate, saying “the court is never without an option, but out of respect to you, I will not take those options.”
Liman, therefore, appealed that the defendants be ordered to take their plea, even as investigation continued with persons behind the letter and the text messages.
The judge consequentky granted Liman’s prayer and adjourned the matter until today for plea.
L Justice Ekwo had fixed the date after counsel that appeared for EFCC, Hassan Liman, SAN, prayed the court to allow the defendants to take their plea, having filed the charge against them since Dec. 17, 2020.
The ex-lawmaker, who represented Anambra North Senatorial District at the 9th National Assembly, are being charged alongside Gloria Odita, Nwosu Emmanuel Nnamdi and Chukwuma Irene Chinyere.
Others include Global Offshore and Marine Ltd, Tip Top Global Resources Ltd, Crystal Television Ltd, Sobora International Ltd and another.
Oduah was arraigned on alleged N5 billion fraud and financial misappropriation while she served as Minister during the Jonathan Administration.
In the 25-count charge marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/316/2020, they are accused of conspiracy, money laundering and maintaining anonymous bank accounts with a commercial bank.
Upon resumed hearing on Friday, EFCC’s lawyer, Offem Uket, informed that the matter was for plea and that they were ready
Defence lawyers, including Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN; Ogwu Onoja, SAN, and others, said they were ready too.
Counsel for 5th and 6th defendants were not in court and a non-guilty plea was entered for them and other defendants (7th, 8th and 9th defendants) that were companies in the charge.
And after the 25-count charge was read to them, they all pleaded not guilty and the judge admitted them to bail in terms of the administrative bail earlier granted then by the EFCC.
Justice Ekwo then asked EFCC’s lawyer, Uket, about the directive he gave to produce persons behind the action that had earlier stalled the trial.
“I gave you the photocopies of these organisations. Are they here? Did you invite them?,” the judge asked, but Uket was unable to give a direct answer to questions asked.
Ekwo then said that though he would give a date for trial commencement, the EFCC must invite the affected people.
“I will give a date for trial and make a consequential order because you have allowed this matter to degenerate this way.
“You think you can shield any of these persons who have interfere in these proceedings?,” he asked rhetorically.
The judge also warned journalists against reporting what did not transpire in court.
He said the records of proceedings are always available for any interested journalist to access.
Justice Ekwo, who adjourned the matter until Oct. 17 for trial, ordered that in view of the controversy the case had generated, “I make an order that the AGF shall take over this case and the EFCC shall handover the records of proceedings to the office of the AGF.”(NAN).