A Lagos State High Court in Igbosere has dismissed an application by a serving Federal High Court judge seeking to stay proceedings in his trial for alleged N81,705,000 corrupt enrichment.
Justice Adedayo Akintoye ruled that the application by the defendant, Justice Hyeladzira Ajiya Nganjiwa of the Federal High Court, Bayelsa Division, was unmeritorious.
The judge noted that Nganjiwa’s application seemed like a delay tactic and that his trial could continue while the outcome of his appeal at the appellate court is awaited.
Nganjiwa is facing a $260,000 and N8.65 million (totalling about N81,705,000) corruption charge, brought against him last June 23 by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
On Friday, through his counsel, Chief Robert Clarke SAN, Nganjiwa moved a motion urging the court to stay proceedings in his trial pending the Court of Appeal’s determination of his suit challenging the high court’s jurisdiction to try him.
The October 4, 2017 application was brought pursuant to Sections 6(6) and 36 of the 1999 Constitution (As amended).
“Whatever powers this court possesses is subject to the Constitution…it is an application challenging Your Lordship’s jurisdiction,” Clarke said.
He argued, relying on the Constitution, statutes and case law, that the court was bound to refrain from further action on the case, particularly since, according to him, the appeal was set in motion before the defendant took his not guilty plea.
Clarke said: “As of today, the Court of Appeal is fully seized of this matter….In those days when we were younger, if a lower court disregarded the judgment of a higher court it was called judicial rascality.”
He contended that the application was a Constitutional rather than a frivolous one and the issue involved was “a grey area of the law.”
Clarke added: “We urge Your Lordship to err on the side of caution and, in the interest of justice, grant the application.”
But prosecution counsel, Mr Wahab Shittu, who appeared in place of Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, opposed the application, declaring it a time-wasting ploy.
Shittu said: “We are strongly opposing this application based on statutory provisions, particularly Section 273 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) of Lagos State, Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) and Section 40 of the EFCC Act, all of which prohibit the grant of stay of prosecution.
“The application by the learned Silk is incompetent because the law does not allow it. The rationale for this is to forestall delay. Our courts frown at delay tactics by defence counsel. This application is an attempt to stall proceedings by counsel.
“I urge my lord to dismiss the application and order the prosecution to commence its case.”
In a bench ruling, Justice Akintoye upheld the prosecution’s argument.
Relying on the ACJA, ACJL and the EFCC Act, the judge held: “This court is not empowered to entertain any stay of proceedings or deferment of proceedings, however, it may be described, in criminal matters.
“The judicial system has moved from delay tactics which may be brought to forestall the hearing of a case…as a result this matter will continue today as we await the outcome of the decision of the esteemed Court of Appeal.”
However, the trial could not go on following Clarke’s request for time to study an application for proof of evidence served on the defendant on Thursday, by the prosecution.
He said: “I’m seeing the processes for the first time in this court. I need time to go through them.”
But Justice Akintoye’s offer to stand down the matter for 30 minutes, so the defence could examine the documents, was not taken.
“30 minutes? My lord, I am 80 years old,” Clarke said.
Following consultation with the parties, the judge agreed to “give the defendant the benefit of the doubt.”
The case was adjourned until November 13.
Last June 23, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arraigned Nganjiwa on a 14-count charge of unlawful enrichment and making a false statement to EFCC officials.
The EFCC said he got the money, “so as to have a significant increase in your assets that you cannot reasonably explain the increase in relation to your lawful income.”
Justice Nganjiwa pleaded not guilty and was granted bail on self-recognizance in view of his status as a serving judge.
Justice Akintoye directed him to deposit his passport in the court’s custody and adjourned till October 6 for trial, after urging the judge “to present himself in court for the entire duration of the trial.”
Nganjiwa is one of the six judges who was reinstated last June 3 by the National Judicial Council, (NJC), following the failure of the government to file charges against them.
The EFCC brought the charge against him last June 13, less than 48 hours after The Presidency vowed to prosecute judges that were reinstated by the NJC but with cases to answer.
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