By Ikechukwu NNOCHiri,Â Abuja
Justice Adebukola Banjoko of an Abuja high court sitting in Gudu, yesterday, fixed June 24, to decide the merit of separate applications filed before her by former Senate Committee Chairman on Power, Sen. Nicholas Yahaya Ugbane and his House of Rep. counterpart, Hon. Godwin Ndudi Elumelu, asking her to hands-off their criminal trial.
The duo alongside three other persons accused of complicity in the illegal diversion of N5.2bn belonging to the Rural Electrification Agency, REA, yesterday, took turns to plead with Justice Banjoko to stay the criminal proceeding initiated against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, pending the hearing and determination of an appeal they have separately lodged at the Abuja division of the court of Appeal.
They are praying the trial court to respect judicial hierarchy and hands-off, since a higher court is already seized of the facts of the case.
Elumelu who argued through his lawyer, Mr. Patrick Ikwueato, SAN, yesterday, relied on section 318 of the 1999 Constitution, to maintain that the onus was on Justice Banjoko to preserve the â€˜Resâ€™ of the criminal matter by allowing the appellate court to take over the case file.
He further attached a notice of appeal with case No CA/24OC/2010, as an exhibit proving that his appeal has been entered at the higher courtâ€™s registry.
Elumelu, Ugbane, and the three other accused persons are currently before the appellate court to challenge a ruling delivered by Justice Banjoko on March 4, refusing to quash the criminal charges preferred against them by the EFCC.
They are praying the appellate court to not only void that ruling, but to go ahead and set them free, while contending that the proof of evidence tendered by the anti-graft agency failed to disclose neither a prima facie case nor a nexus linking them to the alleged scam.
The other accused persons on appeal are Sen. Jibo Mohammed, Engr. Samuel Gekpe and Simon Kirdi Nanle.
However, four others who are also facing trial with them, yesterday, disassociated themselves from their applications, while urging trial Justice Banjoko to go ahead and order an accelerated hearing of the case.
They are Dr Abdullahi Aliyu, Engr. Lawrence Kayode Oriekoya, Abdulsamad Garba Jahun and Barr. Kayode I.Oyedeji.
They yesterday pleaded the court to order separate trial for them in the event that it decides to grant the application for stay.
Meantime, the EFCC yesterday opposed the applications for stay, describing it as a deliberate attempt by the accused persons to scuttle their criminal trial.
The EFCC in its counter-affidavit prayed the court to dismiss it as frivolous and proceed with hearing the substantive criminal case initiated against them.
Relying on the provisions of Section 40 of the EFCC Act, counsel to the commission, Mr. E.C Egwuagwu, pleaded the trial court yesterday to consider the nature of the offence before it and order an accelerated hearing of the case.
Consequently, Justice Banjoko fixed June 24 to deliver a consolidated ruling on the applications.