By Willy Eya
Eminent businessman and former governor of Abia State, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu has raised the alarm over a plot to transfer his case with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from Abuja to Lagos.
The former governor, through his counsel, Amobi Nzelu, said he was arraigned in 2007 before the Federal High Court, in Abuja, and that when the case was remitted to the Federal High Court for trial by the Supreme Court and the three appearances before the trial judge, the EFCC never raised the issue of transfer.
His counsel, Nzelu, in a letter addressed to the Acting EFCC chairman entitled: “Re: Transfer of suit No.FHC/ABJ/CR/56/07-Federal Republic of Nigeria Vs. Orji Uzor Kalu & 2 Ors; Appeal for Re-consideration,” explained that throughout the trial at the Federal High Court, Abuja and before the matter went on appeal, the commission never asked for a transfer of the case.
To seek for a transfer in a matter when both parties have agreed to dates for definite hearing, Nzelu insisted, is nothing short of undue interference in the administration of justice.
“The information at our disposal is to the effect that your commission, after the last adjourned date and without reference to our client or his defence team, requested for the transfer of the said case to Lagos.
“At the last adjourned date, your commission, alongside the defence team, took day of December 6-8, 2016, for definite hearing. Both parties departed the court with a view to come back and commence trial at the agreed dates.
“Surprisingly and behind the back of our client and his defence team, your commission applied to the Hon. Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for the case to be transferred to Lagos Judicial Division of the Federal High Court.”
The counsel said on two occasions, the case was adjourned because of pending appeal and it was at the third appearance that plea was taken and the matter adjourned to December 6, 7 and 8, 2016 for definite hearing.
He said: “Following interlocutory applications and the appeals arising therefrom, the matter went up to the Supreme Court and was in 2016 remitted back to Federal High Court, Abuja for trial by the Supreme Court.
“The Hon Chief Judge, Federal High Court in keeping with his statutory functions assigned the case to Hon Justice Anuli Chikere; having taken plea, our client was allowed to continue with the court bail he has been enjoying.”
The statement further read: “It is evidently clear from the above chronicled verifiable facts that your commission went into deep slumber and suddenly woke up to shop for forum convenience. What must have justified this sudden transfer is not far-fetched. Your commission went for a shopping bonanza and arrived at the residence of ‘Forum convenience’, hence, this request for the transfer to Lagos.
“To secure conviction at all costs is inimical to our criminal jurisprudence and must not be encouraged. For good nine (9) years, it never dawned on your commission to seek for a transfer until when dates have been given by the trial court for definite hearing”.
Nzelu noted that Kalu, after eight years as Abia governor, retired to a private, quiet life in his village, Igbere, but was forced to relocate to Abuja for his trial.
“Suddenly, the trial is now being transferred to Lagos. One may ask; for what purpose? The answer is simple- to secure conviction at all costs.
“The day an ordinary man is made to understand that he can no longer get justice or he is being persecuted and not prosecuted, that day will signal a warning shot for chaos, anarchy and civil disobedience.”
Nzelu asked that the matter be returned to Abuja Judicial Division of the Federal High Court and before the judge who has given definite dates for hearing, and that, if that is not acceptable to another judge in Abuja Judicial Division of the Federal High Court, in the alternative, to the Federal High Court, Umuahia.