By Olalekan Awojodu
Former Head of Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, has pleaded to the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, to adjourn her ongoing trial indefinitely.
Oyo-Ita who is standing trial before Justice Taiwo Taiwo accused the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for an alleged abuse of court process.
In the same vein, the 7th, 8th and 9th defendants in the money laundering charges, also made the plea for the adjournment.
Ubong Okon Effiok, his two companies; U & U Global Services Ltd and Prince Mega Logistics Ltd are 7th, 8th and 9th defendants respectively in the matter, while Frontline Ace Global Services Ltd and Asanaya Projects Ltd are 2nd and 3rd defendants in the trial.
Others in the case include Garba Umar, and his two companies; Slopes International Ltd and Gooddeal Investment Ltd as 4th, 5th and 6th defendants respectively.
At the resumed trial on Tuesday, counsel to Oyo-Ita, Paul Erokoro, SAN prayed the court to adjourn the matter sine die (Indefinitely).
He argued that the complaint by lawyers to the 4th, 5th and 6th defendants indicated that the anti-corruption agency had frozen the bank accounts of their clients even when the matter was still pending before the court.
Erokoro then urged the court to make the order until the EFCC placed before the court the evidence that it had unfrozen those accounts.
“It is a very sad development. We just want to submit that an appropriate order should be made.
“We want this honourable court to adjourn this proceeding sine die until the prosecution placed the evidence that they have taken steps to correct this error and that they are now prepared to prosecute this matter in one court,” he enjoined.
Okechukwu Ajunwa, Counsel to the 7th, 8th and 9th defendants also corroborated Erokoro’s argument.
He said, “I align myself with the submission of learned senior counsel,”
Earlier, the EFCC’s lawyer, Mohammed Abubakar, was ready to take the evidence of the next witness, reminding the court that the matter was slated for trial continuation.
But, counsel to the 4th defendant, Augustine Ananukwa raised an objection to the trial continuation.
In his argument, Ananukwa, said “We are not ready because of the recent event. During the pendency of this suit, the bank account of the 4th defendant was frozen.
“We made enquiries on whose order this account was frozen, we discovered it was not coming from this court. “We are unsure how the prosecution got the order,” he said.
According to him, this constitutes an abuse of court process. The lawyer stated that since the order did not emanate from the court where Justice Taiwo was presiding over the trial, his client would not be able to go on with the matter.
Ananukwa, then urged the court to direct the EFCC to immediately unfreeze the account, said the act had subjected his client, a family man, to hardship.
Counsel to the 5th and 6th defendants, Chitoo Mbama also aligned by opposing Abubakar’s submission for trial continuation arguing that her clients’ accounts too were frozen by the EFCC.
“My lord, due the freezing of the accounts of 5th and 6th defendants on whose behalf I am standing before your lordship, we will be unable to proceed with this matter,” she said.
The lawyer also prayed the court to direct the prosecution to unfreeze the accounts of her clients. Justice Taiwo then asked Abubakar, “Who gave the order.”
Responding, Abubakar argued that the reason given by counsel to the defence was not enough to stall the trial.
The EFCC lawyer told the court that the interim forfeiture order on the affected accounts was obtained from Justice Folashade Giwa-Ogunbanjo.
Justice Taiwo, who was visibly infuriated by Abubakar’s response, said the act portrayed that the anti-corruption agency did not have confidence in his court to have filed the matter in another court when the trial was still pending.
“When was this order gotten? I will not take this case. It means you did not tell Justice Ogunbanjo that this matter is pending.
“It is a slap on my face; a direct affront on my power as a judge of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.“If you had told me this is what you have done, I wouldn’t have gone ahead at all.
“The EFCC cannot tell me they don’t have checks and balances,” he said.Justice Taiwo said he could not undo what had been done by Justice Ogunbanjo because the court had a coordinate jurisdiction.
Abubakar pledged that an application would be filed to seek an order to unfreeze the accounts.He informed that the application filed before Justice Ogunbanjo was a civil suit, filed at the Federal High Court (FHC) registry and the chief judge, in his wisdom, assigned it to the other judge.
He said contrary to the impression, the EFCC had confidence in the court.“The criminal matter before your lordship is a part of a whole,” he said.
He explained that the application of the interim forfeiture contained two charges.“In the application before Justice Ogunbanjo, we exhibited FHC/ABJ/CR/60/2020 and FHC/ABJ/CR/61/2020 between the FRN Vs. Kabir Tanimu Turaki and 5 others,” he said.
He further explained that the bank accounts listed in the application before Justice Ogunbanjo contained some of the bank accounts before Justice Taiwo and the other charge, which was before Justice Ekwo.
According to him, the two cases emanated from the same case file but because of the multiplicity number of defendants, the prosecution decided to split the two charges for ease of prosecution.
He said the EFCC only filed the application at the registry and the chief judge assigned it. He said in the interim forfeiture application, the two criminal charges before Taiwo and Ekwo were exhibited for transparency sake.
“In line with this, we submit that we did not engage in abuse of court process.“We also did not file that application as a result of lack of confidence in any of the Judges of this honourable court.
“We only did it in pursuant to our statutory duty and utmost transparency,” he said. Abubakar apologized to the judge for any action taken that might displease the court.
“We affirm our confidence in your lordship ability to do justice in this matter and all other matters,” he added. He, however, opposed the prayer that the trial be adjourned sine die.
According to him, such an application amounts to an application for stay of proceeding which is against the letter and spirit of Section 306 of Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015.
He added that such an application would run contrary to provision of Section 19(2C) of EFCC Act 2004 and Section 20(3) of Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2011 as amended in 2012.
Abubakar, who urged the court to discountenance the defence argument, said the forfeiture application was neither filed at FCT High Court or any of the state’s courts but at the Abuja division of the FHC because of the anti-corruption agency’s openness.
Meanwhile, Justice Taiwo has adjourned ruling on the matter till Dec. 3.