The Federal High Court, Abuja, on Tuesday, cautioned the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against an act contrary to the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) in the trial of former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, SAN.
Justice Inyang Ekwo gave the warning during the beginning of trial of Adoke and co-defendant, Aliyu Abubakar, in Abuja.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that Justice Ekwo had, on Aug. 4, adjourned till Tuesday for trial shortly after Adoke and Abubakar were re-arraigned by the EFCC on 14 amended counts of money laundering bordering on the controversial OPL 245 transactions, also known as Malabu Oil Deal.
The judge had, at the last sitting, expressed sadness that the anti-graft agency went ahead to file an amended charge few days to the commencement of the trial.
Again, the scheduled proceedings were stalled on Tuesday due to the failure of the EFCC to disclose the name of its proposed first witness in the list of witnesses and file the summary of the witness’s statement in the proof of evidence served ahead on the defendants.
Shortly after the proceedings resumed, the EFCC’s Lawyer, Bala Sanga, called an official of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Clement Osagie, as the first prosecution witness.
Immediately, the witness was put on oath, Abubakar’s lawyer, Olalekan Ojo, SAN, objected to Osagie giving evidence.
“We are constrained at this juncture to raise an objection to this witness, Mr Clement Osagie giving any evidence because of the failure of the prosecution to comply with the mandatory provision of Section 397(1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) with regard to the imperative necessity of the proof of evidence served on the defendant to include the list of witnesses, among other things,” he said.
Ojo argued that the failure to include the name of the witness on the list and serve the defence with the summary of his statement was a breach of the right of the defence to fair hearing.
“A fair trial is the trial that is conducted in accordance with the law. The whole essence of Section 379 (1) of ACJA is to ensure that the defence is not caught unaware.
“We do hereby insist on the right of the 2nd defendant to be served with the names and summary of the statements of the witnesses,” he said.
Responding, Sanga said the non-inclusion of the the documents requested by the defendants in the proof of evidence served by the prosecution was immaterial.
He said this was so because the witness was a witness on subpoena and that was indicated in the proof of evidence served ahead on the defendants that an official of the CBN would testify as prosecution witness.
Justice Ekwo dismissed the prosecution’s argument, saying the provision of Section 397(1) of ACJA cited by the defence clearly stipulated that the documents must be provided.
The judge, who frowned against the manner the EFCC’s counsel was handling the trial, said he was lucky that the defence opened up at the early stage of the proceedings and did not wait till the end to “pull the carpet “
“Unfortunately, in criminal proceedings, I am not allowed to penalise, I would have done so,” Ekwo added.
The judge then gave the prosecution 24 hours to file and serve all the necessary documents demanded by the defendants and adjourned until Aug. 13 for continuation of trial.