May 11, 2024

Alleged N80.2bn Fraud: We don’t know where Yahaya Bello is, lawyer tells court

Yahaya Bello: Court adjourns to June 13 for arraignment

Former Governor Yahaya Bello

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri

ABUJA— The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Friday, declined to set aside the order it issued for the arrest for the immediate past Governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Yahaya Bello.

The court, in a ruling that was delivered by Justice Emeka Nwite, accused the erstwhile governor of attempting to truncate the criminal case the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, preferred against him.

According to the court, the former governor, by briefing lawyers to challenge its jurisdiction to try him, while he remained in hiding, showed that he “has no atom of respect and regard for the court.”

The development came on a day the lead counsel to the defendant, Mr. Abdulwahab Mohammed, SAN, begged the court to give him four weeks to search for his client whose whereabouts he said remained unknown.

Mohammed, SAN, told the court that Bello had on the day he received a copy of the 19-count charge pending against him, expressed deep fear for his safety.

Bello, who piloted affairs of Kogi state for eight years, is facing a charge bordering on his alleged complicity in money laundering, breach of trust and misappropriation of public funds to the tune of about N80.2billion.

Even though he failed to appear for his arraignment, he briefed lawyers to file an application to set aside the arrest warrant that was issued against him on April 17, as well as to challenge the jurisdiction of the court to try him.

While declining to accede to both requests on Friday, Justice Nwite, said it was wrong for the defendant to treat a subsisting court order with disdain.

He held that Bello’s decision to file the applications “is clearly showing his intention not to present himself for trial,” saying he ought to have made himself available upon becoming aware of the order of arrest that was issued against him.

“The law is settled that he who disobeyed an order of court and shown disrespect to the court cannot expect a favourable discretion of the court.

“The honourable thing the defendant would have done was to obey the order of court by making himself available.

“Section 287 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, mandates all persons and authority to give effect to orders of court.
“He has wilfully disobeyed the order of this court. An order of court of competent jurisdiction, no matter how it was obtained, subsists until it is set aside.

“A party who refuses to obey an order of court after becoming aware of it, is in contempt of court.

“He is not entitled to be heard or granted a favourable discretion. The refusal of the defendant to make himself available is solely to truncate the arraignment and prevent the court from proceeding further in this case.

“Refusal of the defendant to make himself available is an attempt to truncate this court and make it practically impossible for the court to assume jurisdiction in this criminal trial.

“He ought to make himself available. He cannot sit in the comfort of his home to file applications before this court.
“The defendant has no atom or regard for the court. Clearly, the defendant is taking this court for granted,” Justice Nwite held.

He maintained that Bello’s decision to treat the order of the court with levity had been repeatedly condemned by the appellate courts.

“In view of the forgoing analysis, I am of the view and I so hold, that no application can be moved or heard unless the defendant is present before the court to take his plea,” the trial judge added.

Meanwhile, shortly after the ruling was delivered, Bello’s lawyer informed the court that the Court of Appeal is already seized with facts of the case.

He said a High Court in Kogi state had earlier okayed a contempt case against the Chairman of the EFCC for filing a charge against his client despite its order that barred his agency from doing so.

Mohammed, SAN, therefore, prayed the trial court to stay further proceedings on the charge against his client to await the outcome of an appeal the EFCC boss lodged to challenge the contempt case against him.

Besides, the defence lawyer said though his client was willing to attend his trial, he was however afraid that he could be harmed.

“My lord, this has to do with his right to life. If someone has genuine concern about his life, it ought to be considered.
“At this stage, we don’t know where the defendant is. Therefore, subject to the convenience of this court, we will be asking for a reasonable time.

“My client does not have any problem answering to this charge. We ask for a reasonable time to enable us to access him.
“My lord, we will ask for four weeks,” Mohammed, SAN, added.

However, his request drew the irk of the trial judge who wondered why Bello’s lawyer made the application despite his ruling.

“I am shocked to my bone marrow that despite the ruling, the senior lawyer made this application. Not withstanding this flagrant abuse of court process, in view of section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, this court shall not stay proceedings in this charge,” the court held.

Besides, the trial judge berated the defence lawyers for not advising the former governor properly.
He said: “You, as a counsel ought to advice him correctly. Is he the only former governor that has been invited or charged by the EFCC?

“How many people have been killed by the EFCC? This is a matter that has attracted the attention of the whole world.
“If he reports himself and anything untowads happens to him, the EFCC will be held accountable.

“The law is very clear that an accused is presumed innocent. This is merely a charge, an allegation that has not been proved.

“It is for you to advice him properly. Bring him here and prepare yourself. This is only an allegation that has not been proved,” Justice Nwite added.

On his part, counsel to the EFCC, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, SAN, said his client, as a law abiding organization, would not take any illegal action against the defendant.

He noted that the agency earlier undertook not to execute the arrest warrant should the defendant voluntarily submit himself for trial.

Turning to the defence lawyer, Oyedepo, SAN, said: “The EFCC will not kill your client. We have never killed anyone before,” he added.

“But my lord, Adoke collapsed in their custody,” Bello’s lawyer retorted jokingly.
Justice Nwite subsequently adjourned the matter till June 13 for arraignment.