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FAYOSE: Judge threatens to jail Obanikoro for shunning court

By Innocent Anaba

LAGOS—A Federal  High Court in Lagos, yesterday, threatened to order the arrest of former Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro for being absent in court.

Obanikoro-Fayose

 

Trial judge is Justice Mojisola Olatoregun.

Obanikoro, who is a prosecution witness, yesterday, failed to appear in court at the continued trial of former Ekiti State governor, Ayo Fayose.

The absence of Obanikoro stalled the continuation of his cross-examination.

But counsel to Economic and Financial Crimes, EFCC, which is prosecuting Fayose, alongside Spotless Limited, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, told the court that Obanikoro took ill and was admitted to a hospital.

“I called him yesterday (Wednesday) to notify him about today’s (yesterday’s) proceedings. He said he thought he would be discharged on Wednesday (when the court did not sit).  This morning (yesterday), I couldn’t reach him on phone. But his Special Assistant came and informed me that Obanikoro was in the hospital receiving treatment,” he said.

When the judge asked for a medical report, Jacobs submitted one given him by Obanikoro’s aide.

But the judge, who appeared not convinced by the report, said: “If I want to pursue it, the medical doctor may lose his license for issuing this report. But I will accept this because you (Jacobs) are a responsible member of the inner bar.”

At that point, Fayose’s counsel, Mr. Ola Olanipekun, SAN, said he would have applied for a bench warrant for Obanikoro’s arrest, but urged the judge to send a clear warning to the witness.

Justice Olatoregun she said she would not hesitate to order Obanikoro’s arrest if he fails to appear at the next adjourned date.

“If he fails to appear, he’ll be sent to jail and they’ll be bringing him from there with Black Maria,” the judge said, adding that he would give Obanikoro the benefit of the doubt.

She added that she hoped he would be in court next time, failing which she would have “no choice” than to order his arrest.

Earlier, EFCC  and counsel for Spotless Limited, Fayose’s co-accused, addressed the judge on whether a statement made by the late Justin Erukaa, Obanikoro’s associate, could be tendered.

Ojo said “In law, the first litmus test of admissibility is relevance. Obanikoro said in his testimony that he sent Erukaa on errands, including to collect over $1million and that he came to meet him in Ekiti.

“In law, a statement made to the EFCC in the course of investigation is admissible in evidence without the maker being called as witness or being a party to proceedings.  It is not the law that a document which is not tendered through the maker is not admissible,” he said, relying on sections 39 and 83 of the Evidence Act.

But, Jacobs opposed Ojo’s bid to tender the statement, arguing that it was not admission in law, noting that the sections relied on by Ojo were not application in the circumstances.

“He wants to smuggle the statement in,” he said, adding that certain conditions must be met before a statement made by a dead person could be tendered, including that the person must have appeared in the proceedings.

Fayose is on trial for allegedly receiving and keeping N1.2billion and $5million allegedly stolen from ONSA contrary to the Money Laundering Act.

He had pleaded not guilty when he was arraigned on an 11-count charge last October 22.

Meanwhile, further hearing in the matter was adjourned until February 18, 19 and 20 for ruling and continuation of trial.

She added that she hoped he would be in court next time, failing which she would have “no choice” than to order his arrest.

Earlier, EFCC and counsel for Spotless Limited, Fayose’s co-accused, addressed the judge on whether a statement made by the late Justin Erukaa, Obanikoro’s associate, could be tendered.

Ojo said: “In law, the first litmus test of admissibility is relevance. Obanikoro said in his testimony that he sent Erukaa on errands, including to collect over $1million and that he came to meet him in Ekiti.

“In law, a statement made to the EFCC in the course of investigation is admissible in evidence without the maker being called as witness or being a party to proceedings.  It is not the law that a document which is not tendered through the maker is not admissible,” he said, relying on sections 39 and 83 of the Evidence Act.” But, Jacobs opposed Ojo’s bid to tender the statement, arguing that it was not admission in law, noting that the sections relied on by Ojo were not application in the circumstances.

“He wants to smuggle the statement in,” he said, adding that certain conditions must be met before a statement made by a dead person could be tendered, including that the person must have appeared in the proceedings.

Fayose is on trial for allegedly receiving and keeping N1.2 billion and $5million allegedly stolen from ONSA contrary to the Money Laundering Act.

He had pleaded not guilty when he was arraigned on an 11-count charge last October 22.  Meanwhile, further hearing in the matter was adjourned until February 18, 19 and 20 for ruling and continuation of trial.

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