Judiciary

Judge suspends Oyo-Ita’s N570m fraud trial

The Federal High Court, Abuja, on Wednesday, ordered a stay of proceedings in the ongoing trial of the former Head of Service (HoS), Winifred Oyo-Ita, and her co-defendants.

The trial judge, Taiwo Taiwo, cited as his grounds for issuing the order, the prosecution’s alleged act of defiance to his directive that the parallel proceedings initiated against the 4th, 5th and 6th defendants in the case before another judge of the court be terminated.

The parallel case complained about by the judge involved an ex parte order obtained by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from Folashade Giwa-Ogunbanjo, a judge of the same court in Abuja, for the freezing of the accounts of the three co-defendants.

The judge had on Feb. 11 threatened to withdraw from the case if EFCC continued to defy his directive for the withdrawal of the case filed before his colleague while the one before him was still pending.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Mr Taiwo, on Wednesday, described EFCC’s conduct as “judge-shopping”, aimed at getting a favourable court judgment.

The judge said the anti-corruption agency’s conduct was reprehensible and condemnable.

Taiwo, who was visibly angry with the anti-graft agency’s action, said it was a contemptuous move.

The judge then ordered a stay of proceedings in the trial until the EFCC and its lawyer “do the needful” by withdrawing the application before the other court.

It was observed that the judge did not fix a date to reconvene sitting on the case before leaving the matter on Wednesday.

NAN reports that while Oyo-Ita is the 1st defendant in the criminal case marked, FHC/ABJ/CR/60/2020, Garba Umar, and his two companies – Slopes International Ltd and Gooddeal Investment Ltd – the 4th, 5th and 6th defendants respectively.

Other defendants in the case are, Frontline Ace Global Services Ltd and Asanaya Projects as 2nd and 3rd, while Ubong Okon Effiok and his two companies; U & U Global Services Ltd and Prince Mega Logistics Ltd are the 7th, 8th and 9th defendants, respectively.

The defence had on December 1, 2020, reported to Mr Taiwo that EFCC surreptitiously obtained the controversial order freezing the accounts of the 4th to the 6th defendants from another judge, Ms Giwa-Ogunbanjo.

Describing the development as an “abuse of court process,” the defence urged the court to adjourn the case indefinitely until the anti-corruption agency presented evidence that the accounts had been unfrozen.

Taiwo was displeased with the EFCC after listening to the defence lawyers.

He said the prosecution’s action was a slap on his face and demonstration of the commission’s lack of confidence in his court.

When the matter came up again on February 11, Mr Taiwo recalled that he had, on December 3, ordered EFCC’s lawyer, Mohammed Abubakar, to close the case in the other court.

He noted that the matter was adjourned the case till January 13, but still could not find anything in his file showing EFCC had taken steps in that direction.

Explaining EFCC’s position on the issue, the prosecuting counsel, Mr Abubakar, said the commission only filed the exparte motion to obtain the freezing order, but it was the Chief Judge of the court who assigned it to Ms Giwa-Ogunbanjo.

But the judge in response insisted the proceedings before Ms Giwa-Ogunbanjo must be terminated.

He then adjourned the matter till February 24 (Wednesday).

Clearly displeased that the prosecution had yet to withdraw the case before Giwa-Ogunbanjo, Mr Taiwo, on Wednesday, ordered the suspension of the trial till when the anti-graft agency would do “the needful”.

It is not clear yet if Taiwo’s order staying proceedings in the case does not offend section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015, which prohibits all Nigerian courts from entertaining applications for stay of proceedings in criminal cases.

The provisions of section 306 of ACJA was validated by the Supreme Court in a landmark judgment in June 2017.

Oyo-Ita and her co-defendants are being prosecuted for engaging in fraud in relation to Duty Tour Allowance, estacodes, conference fees and receiving kickbacks on contracts. (NAN)

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