The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had surreptitiously presented an application to The Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to transfer Suit No. FHC/ABJ/CR/56/2007: Federal Republic of Nigeria V. Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu & 2 others, pending at Federal High Court No. 5, Abuja, to another judge sitting at Federal High Court, Lagos Division, nominated by EFCC. The EFCC application was neither made available to us, as counsel to Udeh Jones Udeogu and Slok Nigeria Ltd., the 2nd and 3rd defendants, nor to the 2nd and 3rd defendants personally.
It will be recalled that after the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal of the 1st and 2nd defendants, the court ordered that the charge be heard on merit. Our clients, in obedience to the order of the Supreme Court, appeared before the Federal High Court No. 5, Abuja, where it had assigned the matter and took their plea on September 27, 2016. All the defendants pleaded not guilty to all the 34 counts of the charge. The case was with consent of all the counsels in the matter and subject to the convenience of the court adjourned for hearing to December 6, 7 & 8, 2016. It may interest you to know that Rotimi Jacobs, Esq (SAN), counsel to EFCC, was present in court. He did not raise any objection before the trial court for the adjournment of this case to the said dates for hearing.
Our clients are, therefore, surprised and deeply shocked at the application of EFCC for transfer of this case and have instructed us to raise an objection on their behalf to the said application. We submit, with profound respect that the application of EFCC to the FCT CJ would infringe on our clients’ right to fair hearing/trial and tantamounts to forum shopping, which our law frowns at.
In Ibori Y. FRN (2009) All FWLR pt 487 p. 159 at 189, a case similar to the instant charge, the Court of Appeal held: “In this case, if a reasonable man is told that the appellants were arraigned before a court in Kaduna for offences allegedly committed in Delta State, and on the day they were granted ball after two months in prison custody, the court gave them one week to prepare their defence, would he be able to say that they were treated fairly by that court?
“How would the reasonable man see it if he is also told that within that one week, that appellants were expected to brief their lawyers and see to the movement of about 250 witnesses and volumes of vital documents from Delta State to a court in Kaduna that the EFCC handpicked to try them? Surely, any reasonable man would say that proceeding with their trial in that court would jeopardise the appellants’ right to a fair hearing/trial. The major plank of the appellants’ contention is that the presiding judge was not designated to hear EFCC cases and for the prosecution to seek him out and file the charge directly before him is forum shopping. Forum shopping occurs when a party attempts to have his action tried in a particular court or jurisdiction where he feels he will receive the most favourable judgment or verdict.”
Secondly, the offences upon which the defendants were charged to court were allegedly committed in Umuahia, Abia State, and not in Lagos. It would work hardship on our clients to go to Lagos with their witnesses and defence lawyers to defend this matter.
Thirdly, the EFCC application for transfer was not made in good faith. The said application will neither promote the end of justice nor be in the interest of public peace, as required by section 98 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.
We respectfully urge your Lordship to discountenance this application for transfer made by EFCC and allow the matter to proceed to trial in Federal High Court No. 5 Abuja, as earlier adjourned. However, if, in the unlikely event, the FCT CJ may wish to consider this application, it behooves us to draw his attention to Section 98 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, which made it mandatory that such an application should be referred to an independent body, comprising of three reputable legal practitioners for investigation before he could exercise his discretion on the matter.
We respectfully pray his lordship to be guided by the law and not to act at the behest of the EFCC on this matter in order not to scandalise the judiciary.
• Akuma is of the Chief Solo Akuma (SAN) & Associates, Mabushi District, Abuja