From: Lukman Olabiyi
Justice Muhammed Idris of the Federal High Court, sitting in Lagos, has assumed jurisdiction in the trial of an official of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Christian Nwosu, who was accused of receiving the sum of N30 million from a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke, to compromise the 2015 general election.
Nwosu had earlier admitted collecting the money in a plea bargain arrangement he had with the anti-graft agency. However, he had to back out following the rejection of the terms of agreement by the judge.
Nwosu was subsequently re-arraigned alongside another INEC official, Tijani Bashir, on an amended charge by the EFCC. They however pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Following their re-arraignment, EFCC’s lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo, urged Justice Idris to transfer the case file to the Chief Judge of the court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, for re-assignment to another judge.
According to him, it is trite that a judge who had heard and rejected a plea bargain agreement of a defendant can no longer preside over the matter in the event that the defendant decide to change his plea.
He said though the commission has full confidence in the ability of the judge to handle the case, it will be in the interest of justice to allow another judge take over the matter in line with the provisions of Section 270(15) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA).
However, in its application, Nwosu urged the judge to reject the EFCC’s request and continue in his handling of the matter.
Arguing the application, Nwosu’s lawyer, Victor Opara, said the court has assumed jurisdiction in the matter the moment the plea of the accused person was taking based on the amended charge filed against them by the EFCC.
He further noted that transferring the case to another judge will slow down the hand of the clock and that where a plea bargain arrangement is not in compliance with the law, then, nothing of such has happened in the eyes of the law.
Delivering its ruling, on Wednesday, the court assumed jurisdiction to continue the trial of the accused, citing that since the prosecution had amended the charge and the accused had been re-arraigned before it, the court has jurisdiction to entertain the trial.
The also granted bail to Nwosu in the sum of N10 million with two sureties who must have properties within the jurisdiction of the court.
While further hearing in matter has been fixed for June 26, 28 and 29.