A federal judge on Thursday accused lawyers representing the former pension task force director, Abdulrasheed Maina, of threatening the court in a bid to delay his trial.
Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja, said one of the lawyers, Adeola Adedipe, had threatened the court by saying that his expected ruling on Mr Maina’s health condition would be challenged at the Court of Appeal.
Mr Maina is facing trial alongside his son, Faisal, for alleged diversion of funds while he headed the pension task force.
The lawyers for Mr Maina and his son filed multiple applications at the last court hearing, including one seeking his bail. The lawyers also raised a motion saying Mr Maina had fallen ill.
When the case resumed Thursday, Mr Adedipe urged the court to first resolve the applications on Mr Maina’s health and bail.
But in a response, Justice Abang said the issue of Mr Maina’s health was not properly brought before him and that he would only decide after making adequate findings.
He also added that the application for bail was yet to be decided and that the court was still within time to make a declaration.
“The court did not adjourn to make findings on the health report of the defendant,” Justice Abang said.
Justice Abang then asked the defense lawyers if they were ready for the trial, saying that his court had planned to proceed with the trial on Thursday.
Responding, Mr Adedipe said the defense team was not ready for trial because the issue of Mr Maina’s health condition and bail were key matters that had not been resolved by the court.
He said a failure of the court to decide on the issues could render the proceedings null and void in future hearings.
‘Nigerian Correctional Service helping to delay trial’
As he spoke, the lawyer said there was an emergency and requested the court to adjourn briefly for Mr Maina to take his medication. The court granted the request and after 20 minutes, Justice Abang returned and asked the prosecution to respond to the arguments by the defense.
The prosecution lawyer, Mohammed Abubakar, lamented the arguments of the defense that Mr Maina’s bail and health conditions were prerequisites to the continuation of the matter. He, however, said he would “reluctantly” agree with the demand for an adjournment.
In a ruling, Justice Abang accused Mr Maina’s lawyers of “frustrating” proceedings and added that the defense team was in cahoots with the officials of the Correctional Service to delay proceedings.
“In the course of the proceedings today, the learned counsel for the second defendant submitted that if the court fails to make findings on the health status of the defendant, that the proceedings of the court may be nullified at the Court of Appeal,” the judge said. “It means he has threatened the court. The submission of counsel is a threat to the court. It is unbecoming of a counsel of his status.”
Justice Abang said the defendants have adopted the attitude of threatening the court and added that his court was able to deal with the threats.
“Counsel for the first defendant on October 30 did the same thing to the court. Counsel is at liberty to make a submission and not to threaten the court. This is unethical and contentious of the court. Learned counsel for the second defendant, in his own interest, should mind his words and avoid words that will put fear in the mind of the court. This is because counsel is before me. I have jurisdiction over him, I can deal with him summarily,” he said.
Justice Abang described the remarks by Mr Adedipe as unnecessary and added that the Nigerian Correctional Service was part of efforts to frustrate the court’s proceedings.
“I know there is a Court of Appeal that is there to review my decision. It is not the place of counsel to remind me. Not for counsel to instill fear in the court. So any decision I will take, I will be afraid that it will be set aside. Meanwhile, the counsel did not place issues properly before the court,” he said.
“The Correctional Service has failed to comply with the order of the court regarding the medical service. For 15 days they could not provide a medical report. The Correctional Service is compounding the issue before the court. I cannot infer on the health status of the defendant. I’m not a medical doctor,” Justice Abang said.
“The proceedings of the court cannot be controlled by the Correctional Service and the counsel, Mr Adedipe,” he added.
Justice Abang also said the court was not under obligation to immediately comply with a request based on the provision of a medical report.
“Even if the medical report was placed, it is speculative. The medical report cannot automatically determine the suspension of the matter,” Justice Abang said.
Regarding the decision of the prosecutor to accept the request for adjournment, Justice Abang said it was immaterial that he agreed reluctantly.
“The truth of the matter is that the prosecution has also delayed proceedings in this matter today. The learned counsel for the prosecution is in control of his brief. But there was no reason to have consented to the application. A person can act in court,” Justice Abang said. “The court will not tolerate any attempt to frustrate proceedings in court again.”
The judge added that any of the parties that attempts to delay the next hearing will be forced out while the case will continue in their absence.