From: GODWIN TSA, Abuja
Justice Ahmed Mohammed of a Federal High Court in Abuja has explained why the case file containing criminal charges against former Governor of Benue State, Mr. Gabriel Suswam, and the Commissioner of Finance in his administration, Mr. Omodachi Okolobia was re-assigned to him by the Chief Judge of the court, Justice Ibrahim Auta for adjudication, after he had hands off the case.
Justice Mohammed had on June 6, 2016 withdraw from the case following a publication on an online outfit, Saharareporters, accusing him of having been compromised to give Suswam a “soft landing”.
But when the case came up on Tuesday before his court, Justice Mohammed explained that the case file was returned to him by the Chief Judge, Justice Auta with a memo stating that both the lead prosecution counsel, Chief Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) and that of the defence team, Mr. Joseph Daudu (SAN) had met with him and pleaded that the case file be returned to me (Justice Mohammed) after expressing their confidence in my ability to do justice to the case.
Meanwhile, the trial of the defendants was adjourned to February 20, at the instance of the prosecution counsel, Henry Ejiga, who informed the court that he needed time to bring his witnesses.
Ejiga said giving the fact that the judge was involved in an accident, he was not expecting the court to sit.
Counsel to the defendants, Dave Iorhemba did not opposed the request for adjournment and the case was accordingly adjourned to February 20.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is prosecuting Suswam and Okolobia on money laundering charges involving the alleged diversion of N3,111,008,018.51 stolen from proceeds of the sale of shares owned by Benue State Government.
The fourth prosecution witness, Mr. Abubakar Umar, was to continue his testimony on June 6, 2016, when the judge raised the issue of the online publication shortly after lawyers announced their appearance.
The prosecuting counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), Suswam’s lawyer, Mr. Joseph Daudu, and that of Okolobia, had all urged the judge to shun the report, which they said was the handiwork of mischief makers.
But in his ruling, Justice Mohammed said the best option was for him to withdraw from the case and remit the case file back to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court.
Justice Mohammed conceded that the online publication ought not to be taken seriously as it had become the trend in recent times to accuse judges of all sort of wrongdoings.
The judge noted that of late, Justices of both the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal had come under similar attack, but that the difference in his case is that the Justices of the appellate courts were eminent personalities unlike him who was inconsequential.
He said with the publication, if he decided to continue with the case the reasonable man on the street would say the report was true if he at the end of the day Suswam was acquitted and that “the same reasonable man” would say he has been intimidated by the report if the defendant was not acquitted.