June 13, 2024

Alleged N80.2bn Fraud: Court shifts arraignment of ex-Gov Bello to June 27

Yahaya Bello

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Abuja

The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Thursday, deferred the planned arraignment of the immediate past Governor of Kogi State, Alhaji Yahaya Bello, till June 27.

The adjournment followed the absence of the lead counsel for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mr. Kemi Pinhero, SAN, in court.

Pinhero, SAN, was said to had earlier notified the defence lawyers that he would not be able to make it to court and accordingly requested a new date to be set for the defendant to enter his plea to the 19-count charge the anti-graft agency preferred against him.

In view of the situation, the parties agreed to send junior lawyers to the court to set a new date for the proposed arraignment.

However, when the matter was called up before trial Justice Emeka Nwite, another senior prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, SAN, announced his appearance for the EFCC and expressed the readiness of his team to proceed with the case. 

Miffed by the development, Mr. Adeola Adedipe, SAN, informed the court of the agreement that was earlier reached by the parties, which he said explained the absence of the former governor at the proceeding.

Adedipe, SAN, insisted that the request for the matter to be adjourned, was at the instance of the prosecution.

He argued that under Section 266 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, it was not a requirement for the defendant to be present in court when the essence of the proceeding was for parties to take a fresh date.

After he had listened to both sides, Justice Nwite agreed to shift the arraignment to a later date.

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 N80.2 billion.

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

The former governor maintained that the EFCC acted in breach of a subsisting judgement of a High Court in Kogi State when it entered the charge against him and also applied for a bench warrant to be issued for his arrest.

He told the trial court that he had already initiated a contempt action against the Chairman of the EFCC.

Even though the court, in a ruling it delivered on May 10, declined to vacate the arrest warrant, it, however, gave the defendant the opportunity to voluntarily present himself for arraignment.