…trial begins daily from August 26 till the conclusion
Justice Mohammed Idris of a Federal High Court in Lagos, yesterday, informed parties that he is authorised by fiat to conclude the fraud trial of a former governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu.
The News Agency of Nigeria, NAN, reported that Kalu was charged before Idris on an alleged N7.2 billion fraud brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
The EFCC is prosecuting Kalu, his former Commissioner for Finance, Jones Udeogu, and his company, Slok Nigeria Ltd, on an amended 39-count charge of fraud-related offences.
EFCC had on October 31, 2016, preferred a 34-count charge bordering on N3.2 billion fraud against the accused. The charges were, however, subsequently amended, and the charges increased to 39.
Justice Idris had presided over the trial but was subsequently elevated to the Court of Appeal. In spite of his elevation, he has issued a fiat to continue the trial of Kalu, but the fiat expired in November 2018.
Meanwhile, President of the Appeal Court, on July 8, issued a fresh fiat for Justice Idris to return and conclude the trial. Without a renewal of the fiat, Justice Idris who now sits on appellate jurisdiction cannot continue his sitting in the lower court.
When the trial resumed yesterday, Mr Rotimi Jacobs(SAN), announced appearance for EFCC, while Mr Awa Kalu(SAN), appeared for the first defendant and was the only defence counsel appearing on the record.
Also read: EFCC re-arraigns American for $1.2m fraud
Justice Idris then said: “Just to brief counsel that by a fiat dated July 8, the President of the Court of Appeal has directed that I conclude this matter; the trial will now run from day to day until we finish.”
The prosecutor then informed the court that he was prepared to proceed with the trial, but in response, defence counsel told the court that he was constrained.
According to him, after receiving the hearing notice, he had informed the court of his inability to attend following his participation in the election petition matters, which are constrained by time.
He said the constitutional timing for election petitions cannot be extended by any court, adding that even counsel to the second and third defendants was not in court.
Defence seeks adjournment
After explaining all his constraints, he prayed the court to grant an adjournment to a later date.
Responding, the prosecutor insisted that the defence opened its case for some progress to be made before an adjournment is granted.
Defence counsel, in reaction, agreed to open its case but said it should be on record that the defendant will give evidence from the dock instead of the witness box.
In the dock, Kalu was not sworn on oath, and he began his evidence.
The defence asked him to tell the court his name, address and occupation.
He introduced himself as Orji Uzor Kalu and said that he resided at 5 Queen Amina, Asokoro, Abuja.
On what he does for a living, Kalu said: “A few weeks ago, I was a manufacturer of home goods such as Maggi and tomatoes, but now a Senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
He confirmed that he was standing trial on the criminal charge alongside two others and had pleaded not guilty to same. Kalu also confirmed that he was standing trial.
At this point, the defence told the court that he was totally handicapped to continue with examination, and sought an adjournment.
The prosecution did not oppose this request.
The court adjourned the case until August 26 for the continuation of a trial by 10 a.m., adding that trial will proceed on a daily basis until the case ends.
Meanwhile, on the request of the prosecution, Idris also issued hearing notices to second and third defence counsel to be present at the next court sitting.