The anti-corruption drive of President Muhammadu Buhari led Federal government suffered a set back on Friday as the Supreme Court, quashed the judgement of a Federal High Court, Lagos that convicted and sentenced the former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor-Kalu, to 12 years imprisonment for corruption.
The judgment was on technical grounds that the judge who tried Orji Uzor Kalu had already been elevated to an appellate bench before been recalled to finish with the trial. The apex court opined that the Chief Judge of FHC ought to have assigned the case to another judge who should have conducted a fresh trial.
The trial of Kalu which started sometimes in 2007 shortly after he left office suffered several setbacks and went through at least three judges, and one amendment of charges before judgment was delivered in December 2019.
Justice Mohammed Idris had on December 5, 2019 sentenced the former governor to 12 years in prison for allegedly stealing public funds while in office. Mr Udeogu, the Director of Finance and Administration of the Abia StateGovernment House was also sentenced to 10 years in prison. The trial lasted for almost 11 years.
A third defendant, Mr Kalu’s company, Slok Nigeria Limited, was ordered to be wound up and its assets forfeited to the Nigerian government.
They were convicted for defrauding the Government of Abia State when Mr Kalu was governor.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had brought the criminal charge against the duo for conspiring and diverting N7.65 billion from the coffers of the state.
But in a unanimous decision by a seven-man panel of Justices of the Apex Court led by Justice Amina Augie, held that the Federal High Court in Lagos acted without jurisdiction when it convicted Kalu, his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited and former Director of Finance in Abia State, Jones Udeogu.
It held that trial judge, Justice Idris was no longer a judge of the Federal High Court as at the time he sat and delivered the judgement that convicted the defendants for allegedly stealing about N7.6 billion from Abia state treasury.
According to the Supreme Court, Justice Idris, having been elevated to the Court of Appeal before then, lacked the powers to return to sit as a High Court Judge. It held that the Fiat that was issued to him by the Court of Appeal President pursuant to section 396(7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act was unconstitutional. Consequently, the apex court vacated the judgement that convicted the defendants and ordered a fresh trial of the defendants.