The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Monday, ordered the resumption of proceedings within the cash laundering cost the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, entered towards former Governor of Niger State, Dr. Babangida Aliyu.
The court docket, in a judgment that was delivered by Justice Inyang Ekwo, quashed an administrative directive that okayed the trial of the ex-governor which began in 2017, to start out de-novo (recent).
It held that former Chief Judge of the Court, Justice Abdul Abdul-Kafarati, acted in breach of part 98(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, AcJA, 2015, when he re-assigned the case-file to a brand new choose for a recent trial, after EFCC had referred to as 10 witnesses within the matter and tendered a number of displays in proof.
Justice Ekwo famous that EFCC solely had 4 pending witnesses to conclude its case earlier than the matter was handed to a brand new trial Judge.
The erstwhile governor is going through an eight rely cash laundering cost alongside his former Chief of Staff and governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, within the state, Umar Gado Nasko.
The Defendants have been accused of diverting ecological funds the Federal Government let go to Niger State in 2014, to the tune of about N1.940billion.
Though they have been firstly arraigned in Abuja, earlier than Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, in 2017, nonetheless, following an utility by the Defendants, the case was transferred to the Minna Division of the Federal High Minna.
Upon switch of the case to Niger State, it was assigned to Justice Yellim Bogoro by the then CJ, following which the Defendants have been arraigned afresh and let go on bail on November 16, 2017.
However, halfway into their trial, the CJ, in June 2019, ordered Justice Bogoro to hands-off the case.
The CJ subsequently transferred the case to Justice Aliyu Bappa for the trial to start afresh, citing a petition that was delivered to him by the EFCC.
Dissatisfied with the CJ’s determination, the previous governor filed a go well with to problem it, insisting that the goal was to unnecessarily extend his trial.
In the go well with marked FHC/ABJ/CS/620/2020, which has the FHC CJ, the EFCC and the Attorney-General of the Federation, as 1st to third Defendants, respectively, the ex-governor, urged the court docket to reverse rhe determination.
Meanwhile, in his judgement on the matter, Justice Ekwo agreed with the previous governor to the impact that the CJ acted past his administrative powers.
Justice Ekwo held that the go well with referred to as for the judicial evaluation of the motion of the CJ in transferring a judicial continuing mid-stream, from one Judge to a different, after the Prosecution had referred to as 10 witnesses.
“I have reviewed the facts, evidence and circumstances.
“Ordinarily, certiorari would not lie where the Chief Judge of a Court acts administratively in the routine transfer of cases pursuant to the Rules of Court.
“This case is not predicated on the administrative power of the Chief Judge under the Rules of this Court.
“This is a statutory matter whereby the provisions of the law, the power of the Chief Judge to transfer a case, is curtailed.
“Where power is curtailed by statute and It is exceeded, review of such act by certiorari becomes inevitable. It is my opinion that order certiorari must be made in this circumstance where evidence has clearly demonstrated that a quasi-judicial function of a Chief Judge has been exercised in excess of statutory authority, and I so hold.
“As it is, I find merit in the case of the Plaintiff and I enter judgment as follows:
“Declaration is hereby made that having regard to the provisions of Section 98(1) and (2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, the Honourable Chief Judge of the Federal High Court lacks the legal power to transfer or re-assign a criminal case from a Judge before whom witnesses have been taken, to another judge where the trial will commence de novo.
“A declaration is hereby made that having regards to the provision of Section 98(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, the purported transfer or re-assignment of the charge to Justice Bappa to commence de-novo, is ultra bored the powers of the Chief Judge and therefore null and void”, Justice Ekwo held.
He equally declared that the petition the EFCC submitted to the CJ by means of a letter dated February 21, 2019, “failed to meet the requirement of section 98(3) and 98(4) of the ACJA, 2015, as a basis for justifying the transfer of the criminal case with Charge No. FHC/ABJ/CR/71/2017, from Justice Yellim Bogoro to Aliyu Bappa J”.
The court docket made an order directing the CJ to recall the case-file from Justice Bappa and to remit the identical to Justice Bogoro to proceed and conclude the case.
As well as, “an order directing Justice Bogoro to complete the trial, having heard 10 prosecution witnesses”.
Justice Bappa had on May 23, 2019, issued a bench warrant for the arrest of the previous governor and his co-Defendant, after they failed to seem earlier than him for trial.
The court docket additional revoked the bail that was beforehand granted to them by Justice Bogoro.