For a proper appreciation of the issues to be canvassed in this appeal, it will be appropriate to state briefly the facts of this case to enable the acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, a comfortable if not confident position to act decisively on the issues raised therein.
Our client, alongside others was arraigned before a Federal High Court Abuja in 2007. Following rulings, which did not go down well with our client, he appealed alongside others up to the Supreme Court via Court of Appeal. The matter was remitted back to the Federal High Court in 2016 by the Supreme Court for trial. The matter was assigned by the Hon. Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to Hon. Justice Anuli Chikere. At the last adjourned date, plea was taken and the matter adjourned to the 6th, 7th & 8th of December 2016, for definite hearing.
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 6th, 7th & 8th of December, 2016 for definite hearing. Both parties departed the court with a view to come back and commence trial on the agreed dates.
At this juncture, it is pertinent to bring to your attention the following verifiable facts to wit:
a. Our client alongside others was arraigned in 2007 before the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja;
b. After his bail application was argued, ruling was reserved, he was remanded in Federal Prison in Kuje, Abuja;
c. He sojourned in Kuje Prison till he perfected his bail conditions;
d. Following interlocutory applications and the appeals arising therefrom, the mater went up to the Supreme Court and was in 2016 remitted back to Federal High Court, Abuja, for trial by the Supreme Court;
e. The Hon. Chief Judge Federal High Court in keeping with his statutory functions assigned the case to Hon. Justice Anuli Chikere;
f. Having taken plea, our client was allowed to continue with the court bail he had been enjoying;
g. 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 6th, 7th & 8th of December, 2016 for definite hearing;
h. Both parties agreed to the three days for definite hearing fixed by the Court;
i. When the case was remitted back to Federal High Court for trial by the Supreme Court and the three appearances before the trial Judge, your Commission never raised the issue of transfer;
j. Throughout the trial in Federal High Court, Abuja, and before the matter went on appeal, your Commission never asked for a transfer of the case.
It is evidently clear from the above-chronicled verifiable facts that the EFCC 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 cost 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. To seek for transfer in a matter when both parties have agreed on dates for definite hearing is nothing short of undue interference in the administration of justice.
The greatest human instinct is self-preservation hence this protest on behalf of our client and the defence team over this transfer. In the defence team of our client are five Senior Advocates of Nigeria, namely: Awa Kalu, SAN; Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN; Solomon Akuma, SAN; Nwufo, SAN; Chief Gordi Uche, SAN, and my humble self. All of us are residents here in Abuja.
Our client, who, after eight years as Executive Governor of Abia State, retired into private quiet life in his village Igbere in Abia State, was forced to relocate to Abuja for this 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 cost.
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 better imagined than experienced.
Just few days ago, the sacred temple of justice was desecrated in a Rambo-style by security operatives, today an accused person standing trial for over nine (9) years has his case transferred from Abuja to Lagos after dates for definite hearing by the trial Judge had been given, the next thing on line is to target lawyers defending the politically exposed persons – God forbid.
Justice is a three-way traffic – to the accused, to the accuser and to the dispassionate onlooker, watching the entire scenario. Will such a dispassionate onlooker go home with the impression that justice has been done in this matter? The answer is certainly NO in view of the fact that a matter that for nine years in Abuja is being transferred to Lagos after the court had given dates for definite hearing. The conduct of the EFCC becomes more worrisome when viewed against this background that neither our client nor his defence team was taken into consideration.
It is also worthy to note that before the said transfer, politicians in Abia State and its environs had predicted at various fora that this matter would be transferred to Lagos where conviction would be secured at all cost.
Recall that the allegations against our client were situate when he was Governor of Abia State from 1999 to 2007. If the EFCC is favourably disposed to transferring the case, let the Commission adhere to what the Supreme Court said in Ibori’s case -venue of the alleged commission of the crime, in this case, Umuahia, Abia State. It is a common knowledge that there is Federal High Court in Umuahia, why Lagos if not to secure conviction?
There is no justification legally, morally or otherwise for the said transfer if not to secure conviction at all cost and put our client into avoidable expenses of moving his defence team to Lagos whenever the case comes up.
Finally, we request as follows:
1. 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;
2. If that is not acceptable, to another Judge in Abuja Judicial Division of the Federal High Court;
In The Alternative
3. To Federal High Court, Umuahia.
We have absolute confidence in the Acting Chairman’s capacity to handle issues of this nature, hence this appeal. He should kindly do the needful by returning to the drawing table and doing what justice demands in the matter.
All further correspondences in respect of this matter should be channeled through our office in Abuja.