From: Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The scheduled arraignment of former governor of Benue State, Dr. Gabriel Suswam, and two others by the Federal Government was stalled, on Tuesday, following his (Suswam’s) absence in court.
Consequently, Justice Gabriel Kolawole ordered the Department of State Service (DSS) to produce him in court for his arraignment, which has now been moved to May 11, 2017.
In a 32- counts charge, the Federal Government accused Suswam, and two others, of diverting the sum of N9 billion of which was meant for police reform programme, Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme.
The funds were allegedly diverted between 2012 and 2015, while Suswam was the governor of the state.
The allegations are contained in the 32 fraud and money laundering charges filed against Suswam and two others on Monday.
Others named as defenants in the charges filed before the Federal High Court in Abuja and marked FHC/ABJ/CR/48/2017, are a former Commissioner of Benue State under Suswam’s administration, Mr. Omadachi Oklobia, and the then Accountant, Benue State Government House Administration, Mrs. Janet Aluga.
Although, both Mr. Omadachi Oklobia, a former Commissioner of Finance and the then Accountant, Benue State Government House Administration, Mrs. Janet Aluga were in court, the arraignment could not place in the absence of Suswam.
Explaining the circumstances of Suswam’s absence in court, the prosecution counsel, Aminu Alilu told the court that the former governor refused service of the charge sheet.
“My Lord, the 1st defendant is on administrative bail granted to him by police.
“When we went to serve him it was discovered that the 1st defendant (Suswam) is in the custody of DSS.
“We made efforts to serve the 1st defendant in accordance with Section 2(3) of Administration of Criminal Justice Administration but could not succeed as he refused service.
“Therefore we served his counsel in compliance with Section 379(3) of ACJA” the Federal Government lawyer stated.
When the court enquired if Suswam was aware of the arraignment, Alilu responded; “My Lord, he is aware because a letter to that effect was communicated to the DSS and they acknowledged it”.
“This same morning, My Lord, the 1st defendant refused that he is not coming to court to take plea.
“In view of this, by virtue of Section 87 of the ACJA, this court has power to make order for the process to be served on the defendant.
Reacting, Adebayo Adedeji, who announced appearance under protest for Suswam told the court what actually transpired.
“My Lord, yesterday at about 2pm, two officers of Nigerian Police Force walked into our office seeking to serve a charge filed on this instant suit.
“Out of respect for the court, we received the process in protest.
“Our objection is that being an originating process, it ought to be served personally on the 1st defendant.
“What the police did was presumptuous; because that we are representing the defendant in another matter does not mean we are representing him in the instant case. He has the right to brief any other lawyer.
Therefore My Lord, “It cannot be correct to say that the 1st defendant refused to be served”, Adedeji posited.
“It makes a mockery of ACJA if the 1st defendant is in custody of the prosecution and yet they filed a charge without producing him in court to take plea, Adedeji added.
However, his claim that no affidavit was deposed to show that Suswam refused to be served was controverted as Alilu told the court that an affidavit dated April 10 was deposed to that effect.
On his part, David Iorhemba , counsel to the 2nd and 3rd defendants submitted that “in the absence of the 1st defendant, this matter cannot go on because it is a joint charge”.
But in his ruling, Justice Kolawole ordered the DSS to produce Suswam in court on the next adjourned date of May 11, for him to take plea.
The court said until the 1st defendant is served, he cannot be produced in court.
Justice Kolawole noted that, “Although the prosecution said the 1st defendant refused to be served, for the fact that he is in the custody of the DSS, this court has to make an order to ensure he takes plea.
Therefore, the court ordered the prosecution to effect service of the charge on the legal department of the DSS for service on Suswam.
“DSS shall produce the 1st defendant in court except if he is released on administrative bail before the next adjourned date. The 2nd and 3rd defendants shall remain on administrative bail.
“The Director General of DSS, Lawal Daura shall ensure that Suswam is produced in court on May 11, for him to enter plea by 11:45a.m.