From Gyang Bere, Jos
A Plateau State High Court presided over by Justice Christy Dabup \on Thursday refused to grant an application seeking to return the case file of former Governor of Plateau State, Jonah Jang to the State Chief Judge for onward reassignment to a new judge.
Jang is standing trial alongside Yusuf Pam, an ex-cashier in the Office of the Secretary to the Plateau State Government on an alleged N6.3bn fraud charges brought before the court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The anti-graft agency first arraigned the duo before Justice Daniel Longji on 17 counts bordering on criminal breach of trust and misappropriation of public money in March 2015.
However, after Justice Longji retired in December 2019 after hearing the matter for 34 times, the state Chief Judge, Justice Yakubu Dakwak reassigned the case to Justice Christie Dabup who started hearing on the matter afresh. Since the re-arraignment of the former governor, the court had not made any meaningful progress with the case due to stalled proceedings occasioned mostly by the absence of the prosecution until Thursday when the Lead Prosecution Counsel, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) sought the order of the court for a new judge to take over the case. Moving the application for the reassignment of the case, the EFCC counsel told the court that the national lockdown occasioned by COVID-19 as well as the recent national strike by judiciary workers had prevented the case from being heard expeditiously . He also argued that given the fresh commencement of the case due to the retirement of the former judge handling the matter, there was the need to avoid wastage like in the first trial especially as the current trial judge might not be able to conclude the case before her own retirement. But counsel to Jang, Edward Pwajok (SAN) opposed the EFCC application, arguing that the anti-graft agency was only a party to the case and therefore could not determine how the court manages its affairs. Pwajok insisted that the court would be able to dispose the rest of the case in good time if the EFCC is serious with the prosecution.
Counsel to the second defendant, SO Oyewale also opposed the EFCC application and urged the court to continue with the case or strike it out for lack of diligent prosecution. After listening to the argument by both parties, Justice Christie Dabup, in her ruling, said since there was no other court designated yet to handle such criminal matters, it would be absurd for her to recuse herself from the case. She therefore ordered the EFCC to go ahead with the presentation of more witnesses to enable the court make progress in the case.