Nigeria’s Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC today lost the bid to temporarily halt the trial of the Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji, and his personal assistant, Alade Atoyebi pending the re-assignment of the matter to another judge.
Ikuforiji and his aide were alleged to have conspired between April 2010 and July 2011, to commit an illegal act of accepting cash payments amounting to N273.3 million from the Lagos State House of Assembly without going through a financial institution.
Ikuforiji was also alleged to have misappropriated about N500 million of the House’s funds, an offence which contravened Section 18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011. The EFCC through its counsel, Godwin Obla had prayed the court to halt proceedings on the trial pending the response of the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to a request to re-assign the criminal trial to another judge. According to the prosecution, the letter to the CJ was based on the fact that the trial judge, Okechukwu Okeke is due to retire on May 2013. Godwin Obla argued that the judge may not conclude the matter before exiting the judiciary, a situation he said would cause the matter to start afresh if the judge leaves without concluding the matter.
He argued: "It is my considered opinion that considering the intricacies and complexities associated with this matter and having regard to the number of witnesses not yet called, it will be practically impossible for the current presiding judge to conclude this case before he bows out of service in the next few months. Even assuming that the prosecution is able to close its case by calling as many witnesses as it intends to, with the said witnesses also having to go through examination-in-chief, cross-examinations and possible re-examinations. At the conclusion of all the examinations, cross-examinations and re-examinations of the various witnesses of both the prosecution and the defence, the prosecution by practice will have 30 days to file its final address, after which the defence will have yet another 15 days to file its reply on poits of law."
But counsel to the first defendant, Tayo Oyetibo SAN, urged the court to dismiss the letter and continue with trial. He argued that the right to speedy hearing is an indisputable aspect of fair hearing. He said "The concern of the prosecution is that we will cross-examine, re-examine and reply on point of law. This is highly speculative. As a matter of law, there are two options available to the prosecution. First is to proceed with their case under section 283 of the Criminal Procedure Act, failure to do so, the court will ask them to close their case and call on the defence to open theirs. If he is not willing, able and ready to proceed, the court, I submit, ought to close its case and the defence will proceed."
Counsel to the second defendant, Ugwuzor Adindu aligned himself with the submissions of Oyetibo. Giving a bench ruling, Justice Okeke held that the letter before the CJ for re-assignment is not an appeal neither does it constitute a stay of proceedings. He ruled that until the Court hears from the CJ, it would continue with the matter and subsequently adjourned to 19, 20 and 21 february 2013, stating that continuing with the trial will not amount to injustice against the prosecution.
At the last hearing, the Prosecuting Witness one, Mr. Adebayo Adeniji, had told a court that several cash registers were recovered from the accounts department of the Lagos House of Assembly, confirming the alleged money laundering charges against Ikuforiji. Adeniji is an Investigating Officer with EFCC. Ikuforiji and Atoyebi are facing a 20-count charge of alleged money laundering. The accused persons were alleged to have conspired between April 2010 and July 2011, to commit an illegal act of accepting cash payments amounting to N273.3 million from the Lagos State House of Assembly without going through a financial institution. Ikuforiji was alleged to have misappropriated about N500 million of the House’s funds, an offence which contravened Section 18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011.
The witness in his testimony, told the court that more documents had been recovered from the House, adding that since he was given the responsibility of gathering documents relating to the alleged offence, he had embarked on a thorough investigation in the House, with other officers of EFCC. He told the court that some of the documents recovered were a Wema Bank Plc cash register, and an Equatorial Trust Bank, ETB cash register, which was recovered from the accounts department of the House, and another register boldly written "Chiko" cash register, which was recovered from the cash office of the House. The documents were admitted as exhibits by the court.