How I requested Justice Idris to hands off Orji Kalu’s trial – Ozekhome

Chief Mike Ozekhome, a senior lawyer and counsel to former Abia Governor, Orji Kalu, has narrated how he requested Justice Idris to hands off the trial of Mr Kalu in 2018.

POLITICS NIGERIA reported how the former Governor was convicted and jailed for corrupt practices by a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos.

Justice Mohammed Idris pronounced Mr Kalu and Udeh Udeogu, who was Director of Finance and Accounts at the Abia State Government House, guilty in a matter that ran in court for 12 years.

In an amended 39 counts charge, they were accused by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission of conspiring and diverting over N7 billion from the coffers of the state.

In one of the counts, the EFCC alleged that Mr Kalu, who was Abia State Governor between 1999 and 2007, “did procure Slok Nigeria Limited – a company solely owned by you and members of your family – to retain in its account, domiciled with the then Inland Bank Plc, Apapa branch, Lagos, an aggregate sum of N7,197,871,208.7 on your behalf.”

However, on Friday, the Supreme Court nullified the 2018 judgment on the basis that Justice Idris has been promoted to the position of a Justice of the Court of Appeal as at the time he delivered the judgment.

Justice Eko further held that a Justice of the Court of Appeal cannot operate as a judge of the Federal High Court.

The apex court further ordered the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to reassign the case for trial.

The recent judgment has however generated widespread criticisms from Nigerians who posited that the technicalities capitalised on was an attempt to frustrate justice.

Meanwhile, Mr Ozekhome, in his response of Friday, narrated how he had earlier approached the court to reassign the case.

In the document detailing the position of the law sent to POLITICS NIGERIA, Mr Ozekhome also noted that any judgment delivered by a Justice of the Court of Appeal acting as a Judge of the High Court/Federal High Court is unconstitutional, illegal, null and void.

“On 25th September, 2018, I filed a motion before Justice Mohammed Idris, on behalf of Orji Uzor Kalu, prayerfully requesting the erudite Justice (Judge?) to recuse and disqualify himself from further trying Kalu, as he (Justice Idris), had been elevated to the Court of Appeal on 22nd June, 2018.

“The following day, 26th September, 2018, I argued the motion in proceedings that lasted for about 4 hours. The pith of my argument was that Justice Idris, having been elevated to the Court of Appeal, was no longer qualified to sit as a Judge of the Federal High Court, and was thus disqualified from trying Kalu.

“I contended that section 396 (7) of the ACJA which permits a High Court Judge elevated to the Court of Appeal to continue with and conclude a part-heard matter was in gross conflict with the provisions of sections 1(1), 1(3), 238(2), 239, 240, 250(2) and 253 of the 1999 Constitution, and therefore liable to be struck down.

“I cited, inter alia, the earlier Supreme Court case of Ogbuanyinya & 5 Ors v. Obi Okudo (1979) 9 S.C 32. I, therefore, urged the court to remit the case file back to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, for reassignment to another Judge,” Mr Ozekhome stated.

Nevertheless, according to Mr Ozekhome, Mr Idris refused to grant his plea, concluding that; since his earlier ruling on the matter was already being challenged at the Court of Appeal, he would go on with the trial.”

He, therefore, adjourned the matter to the following day, 27th September, 2018, for hearing. On that 27th September, however, the court adjourned the “matter sine die, considering all the factors surrounding the case, fiat and the motion argued yesterday”.

The counsel further explained that the case was therefore put in abeyance for a while, till the fiat earlier issued to the trial judge was again renewed.

“He thus continued with the trial and convicted Kalu, a judgment that has just been finally set aside by the apex court.”

The senior lawyer also disclosed that he furthered by making his points known in national dallies.

“However, because of the serious constitutional issues involved in the matter, I did not rest on my oars. On 29th November, 2018 and 5th December, 2018, I took on the issues headlong in a two-part series in my “HARD FACTS” Wednesday weekly column in the Sun Newspaper, titled, ‘The Constitutional validity or otherwise of an elevated Judge continuing with part heard matters at the lower court’.

“I also wrote a four-part serialization in my weekly column in the Lawyer pages of Thisday newspaper, ‘TALKLING CONSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRACY’, on the 4th, 11th, 18th and 25th of December, 2018.”

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