*As defence denies knowledge of withdrawal
By Chioma Onuegbu Uyo
THE ongoing trial of Professor Ignatius Uduk of University of Uyo, UNIUYO, at Akwa Ibom State High Court, Uyo, over alleged
electoral fraud, took a fresh twist yesterday,
following an application by the defense counsel, Abasiodiong Ekpenyong to withdraw his legal services from the case.
The professor of Physical and Health Education (UNIUYO), is facing charges bordering on announcing and publishing of fake election results and perjury, preferred against him by the Independent National Electoral Commissíon (INEC).
The case was slated for Tuesday, August 9, 2022, for Professor Uduk to open his defense, after previous dates the court fixed for him to do so suffered several adjournments, due to excuses from him (Uduk).
But when the matter was called yesterday the Prosecution, Clement Onwuenwunor (SAN) informed the Court that the defense counsel, Ekpenyong, served them a notice of his decision to discontinue as the defense counsel on the grounds that he had been defending the matter Pro bono since 2020.
During the proceedings on the last adjourned date , Monday, August 8, Ekpenyong had informed the Court that he was going to file a formal application notifying it of his withdrawal from the matter.
However, Ekpenyong was not in Court during yesterday proceedings.
When the trial judge, Justice Bassey Nkanang asked Professor Uduk if he was aware of Ekpenyong’s decision to discontinue as his Lawyer in the matter, he told court that he heard about that for the first time during the Monday’s proceeding in the open court.
But Onwuenwunor, quickly faulted Prof Uduk’s claim, noting that in paragraph 3 of the letter of withdrawal, the defense Counsel stated that he had earlier informed his client of his decision to opt out as the defence counsel in the case.
The prosecution lamented how the defendant was doing everything to continue frustrating and delaying the case, arguing that the liberty that Professor Uduk had been enjoying appears to encourage him to continue in the act of dereliction.
He, therefore, urged the Court to put it on record that Professor Uduk must properly brief his new Lawyer on the case so that there would be no further excuses for him not to open his defense in the next adjourned date.
He also prayed the Court to put it on record that the prosecution would exercise any other avaiilable option they have, if by the next date Professor Uduk continued with this type of excuses.
Justice Nkanang granted his prayers and
urged Professor Uduk to use the two months Courts vacation to get another Lawyer that would conduct his defense, to be prepared and ready to enter his defense when Court resumes.
Court adjourned the matter till 19th and 20th days of October 2022 for defense.
Fielding questions from newsmen shortly after the proceedings, over defense Counsel’s withdrawal, the INEC Lawyer said his team had expected that he would have sent someone to represent him if he was not sure of coming to court Tuesday, as the Court had urged him on Monday, not to withdraw his legal services.
His words, “The matter was adjourned for the defence to open his case today, but Court was served by his Lawyer with a notice of withdrawal from this case. We had expected that he would comply with order of Court and not just serve a mere letter of withdrawal without anyone standing in for him.
“But with the way the matter has been presented and the defence saying he was not aware of the action of his Lawyer, but his Lawyer in paragraph three of the letter of withdrawal had said he had notified him even in writing. So I was shocked the accused person denied knowledge of his Lawyer’s withdrawal in open court.
“With the position we have taken before the court which the Judge already recorded, we would afford the defense a further long rope, to show that we are in to ensure the justice of this case and not to persecute anybody. We are prosecuting, not persecuting”.