By Gbenga Ogunbufunmi
Former Governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, will tomorrow open his defence in the alleged N4.6 billion fraud charge filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) before Justice Mohammed Idris of a Federal High Court in Lagos .
At the resumption of proceedings today, Kalu’s lawyer, Chief Awa Kalu (SAN) had indicated the readiness of his client to open his defence on Friday.
However, other defendants, Udeh Jones Udeogu and Slok Nigeria Limited, through their counsel, Chief Solo Akuma (SAN) and Mr. K. C. Nwofor (SAN), urged the court to stay further proceedings in the matter pending the hearing and determination of separate motions they filed at the Lagos and Abuja Divisions of the Court of Appeal.
In his submissions, Udeogu’s lawyer, Chief Solo Akuma (SAN) drew the court’s attention to a motion he filed at the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal challenging the transfer of the case to the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court.
He said appellants’ briefs had already been filed in the matter which has been entered and marked as; CA/A/870/2017.
Akuma added that he had also lodged an appeal against the dismissal of his client’s no- case submission at the Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal.
“Records have also been compiled in the appeal and it has also been transmitted on 13th August. There is also an application for stay of proceedings in the same appeal. Hearing of the appeal has been fixed for October 4”, Akuma said.
While urging the court to stay further proceedings in the matter, the Akuma argued that going ahead with its hearing will pre-judge the application at the Court of Appeal.
Addressing the court, Slok’s lawyer, Mr. K. C. Nwofor (SAN), also sought for a stay of further proceedings in the matter pending the hearing and final determination of the appeal lodged by his client against the dismissal of his no- case submission.
He added that the grounds of appeal also questioned the jurisdiction of the lower court to continue with the hearing of the matter following the elevation of Justice Idris to Court of Appeal.
“The Order 4 Rules 10 and 11 of the Court of Appeal Rules has a constitutional flavour that is it superior to the provisions of Section 396 (7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 which permits my lord to sit as a High Court judge”, he said.
Responding, EFCC’s lawyer, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), expressed his opposition to the two defence lawyers’ request for a stay of proceedings in the matter.
“The points raised by the two defence lawyers were no longer life issues as they have been overtaken by the advent of ACJA. Section 306 of ACJA frowns at any application for stay of proceedings in criminal matters. We urge the court to refuse the application for stay of proceedings as it is no longer permissible under the law”, he said.
In a Bench ruling, Justice Idris declined to stay further proceedings in the matter, saying it is in conflict with the law.
He said: “The application is in conflict with the law. Trial is being conducted under the ACJA which requires day-to-day proceedings.
“Learned counsels can proceed to the Appellate Court for the hearing of the application for stay and I will be bound by whatever is the outcome”.