Judge refuses to bar self in alleged N30m suit against INEC officials
A Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday refused to transfer a bribery allegation suit involving two officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The accused, Christian Nwosu and Tijani Inda Bashir, were alleged to have received N30 million from the former Minister of Petroleum, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke to rig the 2015 general elections.
They were arraigned alongside one Yisa Adedoyin, who pleaded guilty to receiving cash payment of N70million from the former minister.
Nwosu pleaded guilty at first and agreed to a plea bargain with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The former minister, who was also charged with them was said to be ‘at large.’
However, Justice Idris rejected the agreement on the basis that it was not appropriate in law.
The judge gave Nwosu the option of either changing his plea to not guilty, or accepting a heavier sentence, including N10million fine as provided in the law.
Subsequently, Nwosu changed his plea to not guilty when he was re-arraigned.
The counsel to EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo said the judge ought to have returned the case-file for a re-assignment to another judge, based on Section 270 (15) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015.
He said this was necessary to avoid being accused of bias, having rejected the plea bargain agreement.
But, Nwosu’s counsel, Victor Opara argued that since the judge had rejected the agreement, it meant that no plea bargain was agreed upon.
He added that transferring the case to a new judge would be a waste of time, since previous proceedings were no longer relevant, as Nwosu had pleaded not guilty to the new charge.
The judge ruled that: “The court shall proceed with the trial as if the new or altered charge had been the original charge.”