The $620,000 bribery charge instituted against a former Chairman, House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy, Mr. Farouk Lawan, has been reassigned to another judge of the Federal High Court in Abuja.
Lawan is being prosecuted along with the former secretary of the committee, Boniface Emenalo, on seven counts of bribery by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission.
The former trial judge, Justice Adebukola Banjoko, who was presiding over the case in the Gudu Division of the Federal Capital Territory judiciary, withdrew from the case in November 2014 over allegation of likelihood of bias levelled against her by Lawan.
Lawan had in a petition to the Chief Judge of the FCT seeking the re-assignment of the case to another judge, stated that Justice Banjoko was close to a business mogul, Mr. Femi Otedola, who was the accuser and a proposed prosecution witness in the case.
Apart from the petition, Lawan had also through his counsel, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), filed a motion before Justice Banjoko, asking her to disqualify herself from further handling the case on the same grounds of likelihood of bias.
He had in the two documents alleged that the judge was likely to be biased against him because she and her family were close to Otedola, the Chairman of Zenon Petroleum and Gas Limited.
Justice Banjoko voluntarily withdrew from the case and ordered that the case file be returned to the FCT Chief Judge, Justice Ibrahim Bukar, despite the withdrawal of the motion filed by Lawan.
Our correspondent learnt from a lawyer who is involved in the matter that the case had been assigned to the Lugbe Division of the court.
The lawyer, who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, said he had yet to ascertain the particular judge to whom the case was assigned.
But when contacted by our correspondent, the counsel prosecuting the case on behalf of the ICPC, Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), said he had yet to receive any hearing notice on the case, thus he could not confirm if the matter had been re-assigned or not.
“I have not received the hearing notice. So, I can’t confirm it,” he said.
Whoever the matter is assigned to will be the third since the accused persons were first arraigned on seven counts of bribery on February 1, 2013.
The accused persons were re-arraigned before Justice Banjoko on June 11, 2014, following the elevation of the initial trial judge, Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi, to the Court of Appeal.
Lawan and Emenalo are being prosecuted by the ICPC for allegedly obtaining $620,000 from Otedola in the course of performing the committee’s duty in 2012.
They were accused of collecting the bribe in April 2012 from Otedola in order to remove his companies’ names from the list of firms indicted by the committee for abusing the fuel subsidy scheme.
When contacted, the Chairman of the House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee on Information and Media, Malam Sani Zoro, said, “Honestly speaking, this happened during the 7th National Assembly; I don’t know whether the House was joined as a party to the suit or not. I will have to find out before I make any comment.”