Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke, to whom the embattled former Governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose’s N6.9 billion money laundering case has been assigned, on Monday adjourned till 28 June, 2019 for arraignment of the former governor so that the case could start afresh.
When the case was mentioned, the EFCC prosecutor Mr Rotimi Jacob SAN was in court, the lawyer to the second defendant, Spotless Investment Limited, Mr Olalekan Ojo SAN was also present.
Ojo told the court that he was holding brief for Mr Ola Olanipekun, SAN, Fayose’s counsel who was unavoidably absent, however, Fayose was not present in court.
Ojo told the court that they were aware that the case had been re-assigned to another judge and that the former trial judge, Justice Mojisola Olatoregun adjourned till today. He said he did not know what would be the outcome of the latest development, which was why the defendant was not in court.
The presiding Judge, Aneke also said he was informed of the re-assignment late on Friday. Based on the agreement of the two parties, the case was adjourned.
The trial was billed to continue Monday before Olatoregun, but parties were informed that the transfer had been effected.
Ojo thinks the decision to transfer the case after about 12 witnesses had been called did not accord with the law.
He said: “This matter was adjourned for continuation of hearing but we are here and it has been reassigned to Justice Aneke for fresh hearing.
“This development is very strange to us, having regards to the fact that the prosecution has called 12 witnesses.
“The current legal regime governing criminal trial in Nigeria and the Federal High Court which is the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 states that any part-heard matter where two or three witnesses have been called cannot be transferred to another judge.
“But in this case, 12 witnesses have been called, therefore, with all due respect, the Honorable CJ perhaps innocently acted in breach of the law, considering Section 98 (2).
“Besides, there is a decision of the Court of Appeal, a case of FRN against Lawal, in which the court ruled that the CJ had no right to transfer a part-heard case like the present one.
“I am aware that the defendants are prepared to explore the remedy available to them in law to have the administrative decision of CJ set aside.
“It is inimical to fair trial. We believe that this is a violation of the law. It is not because Fayose is involved but it is important that we get this order declared a nullity in the interest of all of us, stakeholders in the administration of criminal justice.
“It is a waste of public funds and time. We see it as a bad precedent; we are worried; it could be anybody tomorrow.
“It is surprising that it was the prosecution that triggered it. Already, we have filed a motion before the Court of Appeal on it.”
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arraigned Fayose and his company Spotless Limited on October 22, 2018.
It accused Fayose of receiving and keeping N1.2billion and $5million allegedly stolen from the Office of National Security Adviser (ONSA) contrary to the Money Laundering Act.
Fayose pleaded not guilty.
EFCC Acting Chairman Ibrahim Magu had on March 21 expressed lack of confidence in the judge and asked the Chief Judge to re-assign the case.
However, when the case came up on April 15 and the 11th prosecution witness testified, no reference was made to letter.
But in a May 23 letter, Justice Kafarati informed Justice Olatoregun that the case has been re-assigned to another judge of the Lagos Division.
He writes: “I refer to the petition of EFCC on this case and your Lordship’s comments thereto.
“It is apparent that the prosecution has lost confidence in the judge trying this case.
“Justice must not only be done but must be seen to have been done.
“I hereby transfer this case to Hon Justice C. J. Aneke for hearing.”
Among those who had testified was former minister of state for defence Senator Musiliu Obanikoro.
The transfer request, according to Magu, was linked to the heated exchange between Justice Olatoregun and EFCC lawyer Mr Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) on March 20.
The judge had accused Jacobs of being “incompetent” and “extremely rude”.
The judge said Jacobs engaged in “Jankara” practice and lacked respect for her, but the Senior Advocate said he took “exception” to being described in such terms.
He said it was the first time he would be so described by any judge in all his years of legal practice.
The exchange occurred after the cross-examination of the 10th prosecution witness, Maroun Mechleb, who is the Chief Executive Officer of an Akure, Ondo State-based construction firm, Samchase Nigeria Limited.
Justice Aneke has fixed June 28 for Fayose’s re-arraignment.