A request on Monday by Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia’s co-defendant, Godwin Obla (SAN), seeking the re-assignment of their case file from Justice Rilwan Aikawa to another judge, stalled their on going trial.
Obla, who was arraigned alongside the dismissed judge of the Federal High Court, before the court on a 12-count charge of fraud and bribery by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), accused Justice Aikawa of bias.
The two defendants are specifically accused by the EFCC of unlawful enrichment, illegal concealment, corruption, forgery and giving false information to an official of the EFCC.
They both pleaded not guilty to the charge.
At the resumed hearing of the matter on Monday, Obla lawyer, Chief Ferdinand Orbih (SAN) informed the court that his client had send a petition to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Tsoho, seeking re-assignment of the case from Justice Aikawa to another judge.
Orbih revealed that the letter to the Chief Judge was written on November 14, 2019 while another letter was written on November 16, 2019 to notify the court of the development.
He subsequently urged the court to stay further proceedings in the matter pending when the Chief Judge will act on his client’s petition.
Responding, EFCC counsel, Yusuf Buhari, opposed Orbih’s request for an adjournment, arguing that the court’s business for the day was trial.
Buhari said, “I am not aware of the letter and I don’t know whether we have been served.
“The business of the day is for trial and our witness is in court.
“Whatever may be the contents of the letter, we feel it should not stall today’s trial. There should be no stay in criminal proceedings,” he submitted.
After listening to parties, Justice Aikawa dismissed Buhari’s objections and granted Orbih’s request.
The judge held, “because of the nature of the application, it might be better to wait for the CJ’s response.
“I am aware of the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), but in the interest of justice, it will be better to wait for the CJ’s response. Transparency demands that we wait”, he stated.
Further hearing in the matter has been adjourned to February 16, 2020.
Obla’s petition is coming few months after his motion asking the judge to quash the charges against him for being an abuse of court’s process was dismissed.
In the motion, Obla argued that similar suit filed against him at a Lagos High Court has been struck out.
However, in his ruling on the motion, Justice Aikawa held that after comparing the charge before him with the one earlier filed by the EFCC before Justice Hakeem Oshodi of the Lagos State High Court, he discovered that they are not the same.
He therefore held that the charge is not an abuse of court process as it is different in substance and content from the earlier charge.
The anti-graft agency had alleged that the two defendants allegedly conspired to indirectly conceal the sum of N5, 000,000.00 in the Diamond Bank account of Nigel Et Colive Ltd, which sum they reasonably ought to have known forms part of proceeds of unlawful act to wit: unlawful enrichment.
According to the EFCC the offence is contrary to sections 18 (a), 15 (2) (a) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, 2011 as amended and punishable under section 15 (3) of the same Act.
Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia was also accused of making false statement when she allegedly stated as follows: “on the 11‘“ July, 2014 the same family that purchased my land made a further payment of N 4,000,000. That same 11‘” July,2014, a further payment of N3,000,000 was paid in as further payment on Account of the total price of N33,000,000.
“Also on the same day the same person paid in N5, 000,000.00 which was final payment of the purchase price for the sold land in Rita Ajumogobia Street Asaba” to Lawal Abdullahi, an officer of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, in the course of the exercise of his duty and your thereby committed an offence contrary to and punishable under section 39(2) (a) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act, 2004.