The Federal Government on Wednesday asked Justice Yusuf Halilu of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory in Jabi, Abuja to refuse to hear the bribery case involving a former Chairman of the House of Representatives Ad hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy, Mr. Farouk Lawan.
Justice Halilu is the fourth judge to whom the case would be assigned within the four years of its commencement.
The private lawyer prosecuting the defendant on behalf of the Federal Government, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), contended in a new motion that the case was transferred by the Chief Judge of the FCT High Court, Justice Ishaq Bello, to Justice Halilu, in violation of the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.
The prosecution contended that the transfer of the case to Justice Halilu on the basis of Lawan’s unproven allegations of bias against the former trial judge, Justice Angela Otaluka “is against the interest of justice, good governance and public opinion.”
It therefore asked Justice Halilu to decline jurisdiction to hear the case and have it returned to Justice Otaluka in the Lugbe Division of the FCT High Court, where the case was almost half-way before the sudden transfer.
The Federal Government, through the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation, is prosecuting Lawan on amended four counts of corrupt collection of $500,000 out of the $3m bribe he allegedly requested from the Chairman of Zenon Petroleum and Gas Ltd., Mr. Femi Otedola.
Lawan was accused of accepting $500,000 as bribe for the removal of Otedola’s company’s name, Zenon Petroleum and Gas Ltd., from the list of firms indicted by the Lawan-led House committee for allegedly abusing the fuel subsidy regime in 2012.
While the matter was before Justice Otaluka, the prosecution was nearing the end of its case having called four out of its five proposed witnesses, when the Chief Judge suddenly withdrew the case from Justice Otaluka and re-assigned it to Justice Halilu.
But acting on a petition filed by Lawan in March 2017, the Chief Judge withdrew the case from Justice Otaluka and reassigned it to Justice Halilu.
Challenging the transfer of the case in its motion filed on June 30, the prosecution argued that it violated the provisions of section 98 of the Administrative of Criminal Justice Act 2015.
In a supporting affidavit deposed to by a lawyer in Awomolo’s law firm, Mr. Olamide Oyetayo, the prosecution explained that the Chief Judge refused to set up a panel to investigate the alleged bias before transferring the case to another judge.
He stated that the development would require the matter to start afresh (de novo).
Stating that Lawan’s petition to the Chief Judge was without justification, Oyetayo stated that the option open to defendant was to appeal the decisions of the judge and not to seek the transfer to another judge.
The matter was first mentioned before Justice Halilu on June 20 and was adjourned until Wednesday for re-arraignment.
But the matter scheduled re-arraignment was stalled on Wednesday after the prosecution counsel, Akinyosoye Arosanyi, informed the judge of the pending application.
Although the judge said the motion was not yet in his file, he expressed reservation about hearing or even granting the motion.
The judge explained that the transfer was an administrative decision of the Chief Judge and might not have the power to reverse it.
Defence counsel, Mr. Godwin Iyinbor, said he had been served with the motion and was preparing his counter-affidavit.
But Justice Halilu adjourned until September 28 for arraignment.
This made the second time a petition by Lawan alleging bias against the trial judge would cause the Chief Judge to transfer the case to a new judge.
The first trial judge was Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi.
The case was re-assigned to Justice Adebukola Banjoko following Justice Oniyangi’s elevation to the Court of Appeal.
06 July, 2017