A judge of the Ikeja Division of the Lagos State High Court, Mojisola Dada, on Wednesday said she would no longer entertain further proceedings in the suit involving the chairman of Innoson Nigeria Limited, Innocent Chukwuma, until she had responded to petitions against her before the National Judicial Council (NJC).
Mr. Chukwuma and his company are facing allegations of fraud and forgery instituted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC).
Although Mr. Chukwuma claimed innocence, he has continually refused to appear before the judge.
At the last adjourned date, the judge issued an arrest warrant against the Innoson boss.
Mr. Chukwuma’s lawyers, however, had asked the judge to recuse herself from the case and also filed an appeal against the arrest order on their client.
On Wednesday, Mrs. Dada insisted she had no interest in the case.
“In fact, I’ll be relieved if this case is taken off me as it will be a reduction of my workload,” she added.
Earlier, when the case was called for arraignment, George Uwechue, Mr. Chukwuma’s lawyer, told the court he had filed four applications in the suit.
Mr. Uwechue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said the applications should be heard by the court before his client’s arraignment.
He also noted that the EFCC had just served them with an amended charge despite a pending appeal in the higher court over the charges.
“We have just been served with the amended charge by the EFCC, My Lord, there is a Notice of Appeal filed against the order of this Honourable Court,” he said.
“There is also at the Court of Appeal, a Notice to Stay Proceedings of this matter, we were not given adequate time to study the charge.
“The charge is an abuse of court processes, there is a charge pending at the Federal High Court filed against the first defendant by the Federal Government.”
Responding, Anselm Ozioko, counsel to the EFCC, urged the court to go ahead with the scheduled arraignment, adding that the applications by the defence were a ploy to delay proceedings.
“The defence running to the NJC is immaterial, this case should not be treated as special, it is like any other case, I hear the first defendant may be in court,” he said.
“The defence filed five applications not four as alleged by the Senior Advocate.
“On January 15, they filed an application challenging the jurisdiction of this court. On January 18, they asked for a mandatory injunction that the EFCC not be heard in any of the application.
“On February 5, they filed another application that Your Lordship disqualifies herself. On February 9, they filed an application requesting for the stay of execution of the order of the bench warrant and on February 12, they asked My Lordship to dismiss the bench warrant.
“Prof. J. N Mbadugha, the counsel to the second defendant has abused court processes, it is not meant to harass and intimidate the court,” he said.
The EFCC prosecutor said they had responded to the five applications and are ready to proceed with the case despite the Innoson boss evading arrest by the EFCC.
“The presence of the Senior Advocate of Nigeria cannot change the fact that the defendants must be physically present in court, that is the law.
“We made efforts to approach the second defendant by going to Enugu, Nnewi, Abuja and going through the back gate of the Senate and now we are here,” he said.
The judge adjourned till April 25 for arraignment.
Mr. Chukwuma and his company, Innoson Motors Nigeria Ltd are to be arraigned on a four-count charge of conspiracy to obtain property by false pretenses, stealing and forgery.
According to the charge sheet, the defendants committed the offences between 2009 and July 2011 in Lagos.
The EFCC alleges that the defendants with intent to defraud, conspired to obtain by false pretenses containers of motorcycle, spare parts and raw materials property of Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) from Mitsui OSK Lines Limited, Apapa, Lagos.
They are alleged to have fraudulently induced staff of Mitsui OSK and Maersk Line to deliver to them via their clearing agents the goods which were imported from China in the name of GTB by falsely pretending that they were authorised by the bank to clear the goods.
The prosecution claim that the defendants, in order to facilitate the fraud, forged a bill of lading numbered 598286020 of Maersk Line Limited and 11007950841 of Mutsui O.S.K Lines by knowingly putting a false GTB stamp and signature of the bank staff.
The alleged forgery was in order that the forged documents be used or acted upon as genuine to the prejudice of any person within Lagos or elsewhere.
The offences, according to the EFCC, are in contravention of Sections 1(1)(b), 1(3), and 8(a) of the Advanced Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act 2016 and Sections 309(9), 388, 465 and 467(1)(j) of the Criminal Code of Lagos State 2003.
Mr. Chukwuma’s absence on Wednesday would be the third time he failed to appear before the judge for arraignment on the charges against him and his company.