The Court of Appeal in Abuja has set aside the directive by former Chief Judge of the Federal High Court Abuja, Justice Ibrahim Auta, re-assigning the trial of former Jigawa State Governor, Sule Lamido and others from Justice Adeniyi Ademola to Justice Babatunde Quadri.
Justice Auta had exercised his administrative power to transfer to case to Justice Quadri at a time Justice Ademola and Lamido’s lawyer; Joe Agi (SAN) were being tried for corruption related offences before the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
At the conclusion of their trial, Agi, led by Kanu Agabi (SAN) challenged Justice Auta;s decision to transfer Lamido and others’ trial to Justice Qaudri for trial to start afresh, when witnesses had been called before Justice Ademola.
Justice Qaudri rejected the request that the trial be returned to Justice Ademola and proceeded to preside over the trial, a decision Agabi and Agi appealed.
Justice O. Elechi of the Court of Appeal, who read the unanimous decision of a three-man panel Wednesday, said Section 98 (2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) must be complied with in this instance, as witnesses had been called before Justice Ademola.
He said: “The power of the Chief Judge shall not be exercised where the prosecution has called witnesses, and in the instance, the prosecution has called 18 witnesses, and so in light of the above, this issue is resolved in favour of the appellant.
“The application is highly meritorious and is hereby allowed, and in the circumstance, order of the Chief Judge transferring case cannot stand and is hereby set aside and ordered to be re-assigned to Justice Ademola for continuation of trial before him,” Justice Elechi said.
Other members of the panel were Justices O. Belgore and O. Akinbami.
Lamido is standing trial along with his sons, Aminu and Mustapha; Wada Abubakar, Bamaina Holdings Ltd, Bamaina Company Nigeria Ltd, Bamaina Aluminium Limted and Speeds Intl Ltd, on an amended 43-count charge of money laundering.
He is alleged to have abused his office as governor between 2007 and 2015, in awarding contracts to companies in which he and his sons had interests.
They were first arraigned before Justice Ademola on a 27-count charge, on September 22, 2015. The case progressed before Justice Ademola until Justice Auta, re-assigned the case to Justice Quadri, before whom it started afresh.
Lamido’s lawyer, Agabi later approached the Court of Appeal after Justice Quadri dismissed two applications brought before the court, one asking that the case be returned to Justice Ademola before whom Lamido’s trial began in 2015, and another accusing the trial judge of bias.
While arguing against Lamido’s applications during the hearing before Justice Quadri, prosecution lawyer, Chile Okoroma said transferring the case to Justice Ademola could “raise issues on the likelihood of bias.”
He noted that Joe Agi, a counsel for Lamido, stood trial along with Justice Ademola, before they were later acquitted of the charges.
Justice Quadri had, while dismissing the applications, noted that: “In respect to the circumstances of this case, nowhere is it said in the ACJA that where the trial judge is unable to be present for proceeding in a matter, the Chief Judge is constrained from re-assigning the case.
“At the time the case was transferred, Justice Ademola was not sitting. As it is, amendments have already been made to the charges, upon which the present application was made and argued in this court.”
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A Report Of The Judgement Of The 16 Divisions Of The Court Of Appeal In Nigeria