The Federal High Court, Abuja, on Wednesday, overruled Abdulrasheed Maina, former chairman of defunct Pension Reform Task Team, on his application to stop his criminal trial.
Justice Okon Abang, who declined the application of the legal team of Maina, said the defendant cannot frustrate the court’s proceedings.
Chief Joe Gadzama, SAN, had announced appearance for the 1st defendant (Maina) while Adeola Adedipe represented Common Input Property and Investment Ltd (2nd defendant).
Earlier, the prosecution counsel, Mohammed Abubakar, had told the court that since the matter was for trial, he was ready to call witnesses.
But Gadzama informed the court that he was not ready for the trial to continue because he was only briefed on the matter the previous day.
“I am not ready for obvious reason, and it is principally because I was only briefed last night to take over the existing legal team of the 1st defendant from Ahmed Raji, SAN.
“I do not have any of the applications. I need to take over properly,” he said.
In his response, the EFCC lawyer argued that “the practice of the Federal High Court n criminal matters, 2013, states that an application for adjournment shall not be taken on the date fixed for hearing.”
He said the application ought to have been made “earlier than today as provided by the practice direction of the Federal High Court.”
Abubakar, who added that one of their witnesses came outside Abuja, urged the court not to grant the appeal.
Gadzama, however, said that the practice direction. referring to was not applicable in the matter.
“Secondly, the court is empowered to sit on a daily basis and that is what the court is doing,” he argued.
Gadzama also pressured the court to adjourn the trial for him to be briefed by Maina.
“My Lord could notice in the morning before this matter was stood down that Raji was dictating what I would do and say.
“All the documents and processes relating to the case are with him” Gadzama told the court.
He said: “For the first time in my life, I set my eyes on the 1st defendant outside the court and I need to discuss with him so as to keep abreast with the fact of the matter and in that circumstances, I apply for an adjournment.”
Gadzama insisted that “I am now the lead counsel appearing in court for this matter, and it is good enough reason for this matter to be adjourned because I am appearing for the first time in this matter.
“I don’t know why Raji is not back, he promised to come back. I was briefed late last night and I have my letter of instruction.’”
Corroborating Gadzama’s statement, Counsel to the 2nd defendant, Adeola Adedipe, also applied for an adjournment for trial.
Delivering a bench ruling, Justice Abang overruled the application for adjournment, saying the matter was adjourned for trial.
“My Lord, I have considered the application and response of the prosecution, and holds that the 1st defendant cannot by his conduct seeks to control proceeding in a matter adjourned for trial.
“This court adjourned for the prosecution to call its witness and for counsel to be briefed by the 1st defendant even the prosecution opposed the application.
“For the defendant not to brief his counsel is the business of the defendant. Ample time was giving by the court for the defendant to brief his counsel, and he has himself to blame if he did not.
“The defendant’s counsel on record is Ahmed Raji, SAN, and he has not applied to withdraw from the case. He ought to be in court but no reason was given for his absence” Justice Abang noted.
Abang held that Raji was in court in the morning before the matter was stood down and wondered why he left because the matter was not adjourned.
The court held that Raji should not have left without its permission.
“Ahmed Raji should not have left except with permission of the court. Therefore I hold that learned counsel walked out on court. it is unethical and he left to cause problem for the court today.
“My Lord, the learned counsel, Gadzama is not counsel on record before today.
“The defendant cannot come on a day fixed for trial to ask for an adjournment. Application for adjournment is hereby overruled” he held.
Meanwhile, the prosecution went ahead to call its witness by name, Mairo Mohammed, a staff of an old generation bank, who admitted opening naira and dollar accounts for Maina.
She admitted knowing Maina.
“Yes my Lord, his name is Abdulrasheed Maina. We have a bank-customer relationship, and also, he is a junior brother to my late husband.
“He is my brother-in-law, and I know the company called Common Input Property and Investment Ltd.
“I approached Maina when he was chairman Police Pension Task Force and solicited for deposit, and he gave the bank a deposit of N3 billion in 2011, ànd the funds were moved to Treasury Single Account with CBN around 2012.
“In a bid to grow my deposit, I also approached Maina for more deposits and I opened about 12 accounts for him and his immediate family,” the witness told the court.
The case was later adjourned until Nov. 4, Nov 5, Nov. 6 and Nov. 7 for trial continuation. (NAN)