A former minister of finance, Nenadi Usman, is at the risk of losing her life to breast cancer if not granted urgent leave to travel abroad, Abiodun Owonikoko, her lawyer, told a federal court in Lagos on Wednesday.
Mrs. Usman is facing a 17-count charge bordering on conspiracy, stealing, and money laundering alongside Femi Fani-Kayode, a former aviation minister; Danjuma Mohammed; and Jointrust Dimensions Nigeria Limited amounting to over N38 billion.
The accused pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
Amidst a charged atmosphere on Wednesday, Mr. Owonikoko reminded the judge he had, at the last hearing date (December 2, 2016), filed an application seeking to retrieve his client’s international passport to enable her keep her medical appointment abroad.
The defence lawyer urged the court that the application be heard first.
But Rotimi Oyedepo, counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, noted that the defence team had already filed an application challenging the jurisdiction of the court.
“I am thinking that on the face of the motion, it has lapses,” Mr. Oyedepo said of the defence lawyer’s request.
“The issue first should be that the court handles the application challenging the jurisdiction of the court which is more urgent, except if my learned colleague wants to strike out that application and then we can handle this issue.
“I think it’s tidy, logical and legal to determine the propriety of our appearance before our Lordship before any other matter.”
Mr. Owonikoko responded that the motion for medical leave was filed first before the application challenging the court’s jurisdiction.
“The defendant has already missed her previous appointment in hospital and this is very serious because she has breast cancer which is threatening her life and we only ask that there be an unconditional release of her passport.
“There was no application opposing this motion, we have brought her medical reports and it was not opposed. Even the president of the country sought for ten days medical leave but we all know where we are now.”
Mr. Oyedepo objected to the defence lawyer’s claims saying that it was not in his position to give evidence.
“With all due respect to the counsel, the jurisdiction of the judge is being challenged and I think that it’s urgent.”
But a visibly angry Mr. Owonikoko replied, “Why do we talk like this? If this defendant is bed-ridden, will this case go on?”
Justice Muslim Hassan asked Mr. Owonikoko, “If my jurisdiction is being challenged, shall I go ahead and hear any other case without first determining my jurisdiction?”
Responding, Mr. Owonikoko said, “It is not going to be palatable for a lady with breast cancer to be flying down from Abuja to Lagos, lodge in a hotel for a case that happened in Abuja.”
Mr. Oyedepo noted that the court sat during vacation and that there was no affidavit of urgency filed alongside the defence’s application.
“During your Lordship’s leave, this was not sought and obtained during the vacation bearing in mind that the defendant was supposed to fly on 20th December,” Mr. Oyedepo said.
“So the question to be asked is when does the application suddenly become urgent? The time for the defendant to fly has elapsed which was supposed to take place 20th December, 2016, and 20 January, 2017.
“When there are two issues before the court with one challenging the jurisdiction of the court and another on health issue, I only ask, which one should the court take first? Is it not lawful that the court handles the one challenging its jurisdiction.”
In his ruling, the judge held that he could not attend to the application seeking for medical leave while there is another application challenging his jurisdiction by the same applicant.
He then adjourned the case till March 1, 2017.