According to reports, T=the Federal High Court in Lagos has adjourned further proceedings till April 10, 2017 in the trial of a former Governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, who was charged with N2.9bn fraud.
The trial judge, Justice Mohammed Idris, adjourned the case on Thursday to enable the prosecution to regularise the proof of evidence it filed in support of the charge.
The decision for an adjournment followed a ruling in which the judge upheld the objection of the defence counsel to the competence of a bank manager, Christy Ohiri, to testify in the case as the second witness for the prosecution.
The defence counsel, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), Chief Solo Akuma (SAN) and Mr. K.C. Nwafor (SAN), had on Wednesday contended that Ohiri could not testify in the case because her name was not on the list of the 19 witnesses proposed to be called by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
The defence counsel also opposed the move by the prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), to tender, through Ohiri, the statement of an account opened by the Abia State Government House at the Umuahia branch of United Bank for Africa.
The defence counsel had also objected to the tendering of a letter dated October 4, 2006 written by UBA to the EFCC in response to an enquiry on the status of the Abia State Government House account.
In his ruling on Thursday, Justice Idris held that it was clear that Ohiri was not listed as one of the witnesses in the proof of evidence frontloaded and served on the defence counsel by the prosecution.
He said this failure could not be waved aside as it was a fundamental breach of Section 397(1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and Section 36 of the constitution which states that an accused person must be given adequate time and facility to prepare his defence.
“The witness is not properly before the court…Justice rushed, is justice crushed,” the judge said and directed the prosecutor to regularise the processes and serve all the necessary documents on the defence counsel.
Following the ruling, the prosecutor, Jacobs, pleaded with the defence counsel and the judge to be allowed to use his pen to write Ohiri’s name in the list of the witnesses so that the case could proceed immediately or for the judge, in the alternative, to stand the matter down for few minutes to allow him file additional proof of evidence and serve it on the defence counsel in court.
But the proposition was rejected by the defence counsel, who described the application as an attempt to rubbish the ruling of the judge.
The judge refused Jacobs prayer, holding that, “Compliance with Section 397(1) is mandatory.”
“It is an issue that goes to the foundation of a criminal trial. The prosecution should take immediate steps to comply with the provisions of Section 397(1) of the ACJA,” the judge held.
The matter was consequently adjourned till April 10, 11, 12 and 13, 2017.