“At the moment, the first accused person is severely ill. He has undergone a quadruple open heart by-pass.”
The sight of a “severely ill” Chimaroke Nnamani, former Governor of Enugu State, who could barely stand in the dock, Tuesday, forced the judge to adjourn his criminal trial to November 3rd.
In a quick ruling after Mr. Nnamani’s counsel requested for adjournment, Mohammed Yinusa, the trial judge, said that the former governor needed more time to attend to his health.
“I can confidently state what I can see in the open court and I can say that the accused person cannot even stand in the dock,” the judge said, adding that he does not possess the medical know-how to ascertain Mr. Nnamani’s state of health.
“The first accused person needs time to heal and get adequate medical attention,” he added.
Mr. Nnamani, Enugu governor from 1999-2007, is facing a 105-count charge of laundering N5 billion filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
At the last sitting in March, Mr. Nnamani’s lawyer succeeded in obtaining an adjournment after he claimed that the day was meant for a mention of the case and not the trial of his client.
On Tuesday, the ex-governor, who had recently announced his readiness to reclaim his Senatorial seat in the 2015 election; walked into the court room, his head bowed and right hand clasped across his chest.
His lawyer, Oluyele Delano, promptly pleaded with the judge to allow him sit down outside the dock, and the judge granted the request.
Slowly, he sat down, his hand still clasped across his chest.
And for the entire 90 minutes that the proceeding lasted, Mr. Nnamani’s hand remained on his chest; Sunday Anyaogu, his aide who is facing trial with him, stood alone in the dock.
“Regrettably, my lord, we are constrained to seek further adjournment of the trial of this matter,” Mr. Delano, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, told the judge in response to the prosecution’s statement that they were ready to call their witnesses.
“At the moment, the first accused person (Mr. Nnamani) is severely ill. He has undergone a quadruple open heart by-pass. And while there was relative success with regards to that surgery, the accused person has had to embark on a very tedious recovery process,” Mr. Delano said.
“Unfortunately, he has recently suffered a set back in his health, in that he continues to suffer chronic chest pains,” he added.
Mr. Delano said that his client’s doctors suspect that his heart is rejecting the pacemaker, a small device placed in the chest or abdomen to help control abnormal heart rhythms, that had been installed there.
“Indeed, at our pre-trial interview recently, only God did not let me have a corpse in my office.
“A dead man cannot be tried. I humbly crave the indulgence of the court to give us more time to be in a position to vigorously defend the allegations against us,” Mr. Delano said.
“In making this application, let’s bear in mind the need for justice to be seen to be done in that the first defendant will defend the allegations of the state against him,” he added.
Kevin Uzozie, counsel to the EFCC, said that illness should not be a ground for stalling trial, adding that there was no medical evidence to show that the accused is incapable of understanding the court’s proceedings.
“At the risk of being accused as a man who has no feelings, I’ll like to remind my lord that we started this matter in 2007 when this matter was called,” said Mr. Uzozie.
“When this matter is called, most times the first accused will not be around. Health will be given as a reason for adjournment.
“I’ll say that illness per se is not a ground for stalling trial. The question is, is the accused person capable of understanding the proceedings?”
In his ruling, Mr. Yinusa reminded the prosecution that ex-governor’s criminal trial did not begin with him in 2007.
“This case commenced before me on 7th March 2013. Ill health is an important issue in criminal trial particularly where the heart is affected,” said Mr. Yinusa.
Mr. Nnamani was first arraigned before Justice Abubakar Tijani in 2007 alongside Mr. Anyaogu, his aide; Rainbownet (Nig) Ltd; Hillgate (Nig) Ltd; Cosmo FM; Capital City Automobile (Nig) Ltd; Renaissance University Teaching Hospital; and Mea Mater Elizabeth High School.
Three judges had handled the trial before it was transferred to Mr. Yinusa.
In April last year, the judge granted Mr. Nnamani leave to travel overseas for medical treatment – his lawyer said he was suffering from Hypercholesterolemia, a condition characterized by very high levels of cholesterol in the blood.
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