I’m qualified to try you, Abang tells Gabriel Suswam
Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja yesterday ruled that he had jurisdiction to entertain the case involving the former governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswam, alongside his former Commissioner of Finance, Okolobia Okpanachi.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is prosecuting Suswam and Okpanachi on a nine-count charge of money laundering and diversion of funds to the tune of N3.1 billion.
The EFCC had in 2015 arraigned the defendants before Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja, and had presented four witnesses before the court.
The matter was to continue after the vacation embarked upon by the judiciary last month in Justice Mohammed’s court.However, the counsel were informed of Justice Mohammed’s withdrawal from the case through hearing notice from Justice Abang’s court.
On September 24, 2019, the defendants were to take their plea in Abang’s court but could not, as the defence opposed the transfer of the case.
On September 27, 2019 adjourned date, defence counsel to Suswam, C. E. Ogbozor, urged the court to decline jurisdiction and return case file to the Acting Chief Judge of the Federal High Court.
She argued that the prosecution having called four witnesses, cannot be allowed to commence de’novo, while referring to Section 1, 98, 99 and 396(7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act wherein if a case has been partly heard, cannot start de’novo, stating that the only exception was when a trial judge ceases to hold office by act of law or act of God.
However, the prosecution counsel, Oluwaleke Atolagbe, while opposing the argument, urged the court to refuse the application, adding that the crucial question to be asked was whether a judge could be compelled to hear a case against his wish.
He told the court that Justice Mohammed on June 6, 2019, withdrew from the case and sent back the case to the Chief Judge, observing that both counsel had expressed absolute confidence in him adjudicating over the matter. He said the case file was returned to him after the Chief Judge acceded to the request.
Atolagbe argued that the trial judge needed not to have invited parties to address him on whether or not he should disqualify himself or return the case file to the Chief Judge for re-assignment as the transfer was not based on the addresses of the counsel.
Justice Abang, in his ruling on the defence’s application yesterday, said if sustained, the case would be returned to the Chief Judge for it to continue before Justice Mohammed and if rejected, the defendants should be ready to take their plea in his court.
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