Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday said it would today hear the defence of a former Governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, in the alleged N3.2 billion fraud case preferred against him.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is prosecuting Kalu together with his former Commissioner for Finance, Ude Jones Udeogu, and a company, Slok Nigeria Ltd, in a 34-count charge bordering on alleged fraud.
They had each pleaded not guilty to the charge, and were granted bail.
At yesterday’s proceedings, the defence counsel, Chief Awa Kalu (SAN), Chief Solo Akuma (SAN) and Mr. Kelvin Nwofo (SAN), urged the court to stay proceedings pending the determination of appeal filed at the Court of Appeal on jurisdictional issues.
Akuma drew the court’s attention to a motion he filed at the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal challenging the transfer of the case to the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court.
The defence counsel argued that the grounds of appeal question the jurisdiction of the trial court to continue with the hearing of the case, following the elevation of the trial judge, Justice Mohammed Idris, to the Court of Appeal.
The defence argued that Order 4 Rules 10 and 11 of the Court of Appeal Rules is superior to the provisions of Section 396 (7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, which permits the judge to still sit as a High Court judge.
But the EFCC’s lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), expressed opposition to defence’s request for a stay of proceedings in the matter.
Jacobs argued that the points raised by defence lawyers were no longer live issues, as they had been overtaken by the advent of the ACJA.
He said that Section 306 of the ACJA frowns at any application for stay of proceedings in criminal matters and urged the court to refuse the application as it is no longer permissible under the law.
In his ruling, Justice Idris declined the request to stay further proceedings in the case on the grounds that it is in conflict with the provisions of the law.
“The application is in conflict with the law; trial is being conducted under the ACJA, which requires day-to-day proceedings.
He said that the learned counsel could proceed to the appellate court for hearing of their application for stay, but ordered the accused to begin their defence.
Idris, therefore, adjourned the case till today, September 21, 2018 for continuation of trial.