Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke of the Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday declined to consolidate the trial of one of the lawyers of former Vice-President, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, Uyiekpen Giwa-Osagie with that of is son-in-law, Abdullahi Babalele.
Justice Aneke, while ruling on an application to that effect brought by lawyers to Giwa-Osagie, held that there was no legal provision for the consolidation of criminal cases.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had accused the two men of laundering money during the 2019 general elections, in which Atiku was a presidential candidate on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party.
While Babalele was accused of laundering $140, 000; Giwa-Osagie was arraigned alongside his brother, Erhunse Giwa -Osagie for allegedly laundering $2 million.
Uyiepken, a senior counsel in a law firm, Africa Law Practices (ALP) and his younger brother, Erhunse, were first arraigned before Justice Nicholas Oweibo on August 14, 2019 during the court annual vacation on three counts charge of conspiracy and money laundering.
They had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
After the court resumed from its annual vacation, the defendants were re-arraigned before Justice Chuka Obiozor, on the same charge.
But when their trial was about to commenced before the new judge, their lawyers, Ahmed Raji and Norrison Quakers, both Senior Advocates of Nigeria (SAN), brought an application, seeking to consolidate the charge with that of Atiku’s son-in-law, Abdullahi Babalele, who is being tried before Justice Aneke’s court for similar offences.
Giwa-Osagies’ lawyer, Norrison Quaker, had told Justice Obiozor that a letter had been written to the Court’s Chief Registrar, for the consolidation of the charge with Babalele.
After their plea was taken, Justice Obiozor, returned the case file to the court’s registry and it was subsequently reassigned to Justice Aneke.
But the counsel to the EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo had informed the court that his commission is protesting such consolidation.
The lawyer said, “we are protesting that, we have written a letter to Honourable Chief Judge for reassignment of the case to the former judge.
“There is nothing connecting the case pending before this court and this case. It is going to be a dangerous things if we allow this to happened.
“During the vacation, two cases were assigned to Justice Obiozor, this one and that of Professor Maurice Iwu, but they were transferred.
Oyedepo also told the court that a letter has been written to the Court’ Chief Judge by the Commission, to reassigned the charge back to Justice Obiozor.
He therefore urge the court to adjourned the matter, so that it can be reassigned to the former judge.
Responding, the defence counsel, Quakers, described Oyedepo’s statement as ‘offensive and out of tune”.
He said: “I find the statement of the prosecutor a bit offensive and put of tune.
“The court will recalled that the matter was transfered based on rule of court and by the Administrative Judge, who in his wisdom transfered the matter based on the connection in the prove of evidence served on us.
“Having consolidated the two charges, all the counsel have to come before this court”.
To support his submission, Quakers cited the case of O.L.G.C and AISHB, Part 3, Nigerian Weekly Law Report, 2008, which he said, states that “once an Administrative Judge has exercised his judicial power, the business of the counsel is to come before the court.
Quakers also told the court that the prosecution has not presented any thing before the court challenging the transfer of the charge.
He therefore urges the court to discountenance the prosecutor’s argument for the request for adjournment.
Responding on point of law, the EFCC lawyer cited section 89 of Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, which he said the decision cited by the defendants’ counsel does not nexus with.
He said, “The charge has no nexus, the transfer is not in the interest of justice, no panel was constituted and I wasn’t invited to any panel.
“I urged the court to return the case file to the Chief Judge for reassignment to the former judge”.
Justice Aneke in his ruling on Monday held that there was no provision in the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, empowering him to turn down a case assigned to him by the Chief Judge, he therefore could not reject the Giwa-Osagie’s case.
He, however, held that he is now empowered under the law to join two criminal charge, so he would try the two cases separately.
The judge then adjourned the cases till April 2, saying he was not sure whether he would be transferred from Lagos to another state.
He informed the court that the Chief Judge of the court had instructed all judges not to commence new trials under the planned rotation of Judicial officers is effected.
The Osagie-Giwa brothers were dragged before the court in a charge numbered number FHC/L/283c/19, wherein they were both alleged to have on February 12, 2019, conspired among themselves and make cash payment of the sum of $2 million USD, without going through financial institutions.
Uyiekpen, was alleged to have procure his brother, Erhunse, to make the cash payment of the said sum without recourse to financial institutions.
The offences according to the prosecuting agency, EFCC, contravened 18(c), 18(a), 1(a), 16(1), (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 as amended and punishable under Section 16, 16(2)(b)16(2)(b) of the same Act.