The Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, has reversed his decision transferring the trial of the former Caretaker Chairman of the Ogori/Mangogo Local Government Area of Kogi State, Gabriel Daudu to Justice P.M. Ayua of the Lokoja Judicial Division.
The reversal of the order of Justice Auta was sequel to an appeal made to his office by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) through its lead counsel, Wahab Shittu.
The EFCC, which is prosecuting Dauda, had in a letter dated August 19, and signed by its Director, Legal and Prosecution Department, Chile Okoromu, informed Shittu of the new posture of Justice Auta on the matter.
“Please be informed that the Honourable Chief Judge of the Federal High Court has reversed his earlier decision concerning the above mentioned case and has therefore directed that it be re-assigned to Honourable Justice I. E. Ekwo for conclusion,” the letter stated in part.
In view of this development, the trial of Gabriel Daudu would no longer start de-novo, but to now continue and be concluded under the former trial judge, Justice I. E. Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Lokoja.
The reversal of order by the Chief Judge was sequel to series of letters of appeal written by the EFCC through its counsel, Wahab Shittu, pleading that the matter be concluded by the trial judge, who has been handling it since it commenced.
The case of Daudu, file number FHC/LKJ/17C/2011, was one of the four cases that were being prosecuted by a team of prosecutors led by Wahab Shittu on behalf of the EFCC, before Justice Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Lokoja, before his transfer to Yenagoa, Bayelsa State last year. Other cases include FRN Vs Yahaya Abubakar (FHC/LKJ/15C/2011); FRN Vs Raji Owuda Ahmed (FHC/LKJ/17C/2011) and FRN Vs Stephen Ropo Asala (FHC/LKJ/16C/2011).
In 2014, Justice Inyang Ekwo was transferred out of Lokoja, which prompted the EFCC, through its lead counsel, Wahab Shittu, to appeal to Justice Auta to allow Justice Ekwo continue with the matter.
Shittu had in a letter addressed to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Auta, dated June 30, 2015 said: “Parties in the proceedings including the prosecution and the defence were well shocked during proceedings of the court on June 29, 2015 when his lordship, Honourable Justice I. E. Ekwo informed the parties of the directive to commence the matter de novo before another judge of the Federal High Court”.
He had expressed displeasure over the development and urged the Chief Judge to take a second look at the case with a view to reviewing the decision. He argued that the directive starting the matter afresh would lead to great inconvenience and injustice to the parties.
“We are constrained to inform His Lordship that this matter, which has been pending for almost five years has progressed to an advanced stage with both the prosecution and the defence having closed their respective cases paving the way for addresses by counsel.
“In the light of the above and in the interest of justice, we humbly appeal to His Lordship to allow the presiding judge, Honorable Justice I. E. Ekwo, to conclude this matter, in view of the length of time it has taken and the progress already recorded in the proceedings.
“We believe that in view of the above and the seriousness and urgency guiding the treatment of corruption related cases, His Lordship would treat this request strictly on the merits in the interest of speedy and fairer adjudication of corruption related cases, given the length of time involved and progress recorded in the proceedings”, he added.
Daudu, who was also a lawmaker in the Kogi State House of Assembly, is currently facing an amended 210-count of money laundering and misappropriation of public funds to the tune of about N1.4bn.