Argument over the appearance of a new prosecution lawyer has further stalled the trial of a university professor accused of election fraud in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria’s South-south.
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), through its lawyer, Clement Onwuenwunor, is prosecuting Ignatius Uduk, a professor, at the state High Court, Uyo, for unlawful generation of election results during the 2019 general elections in Akwa Ibom State.
Mr Onwuenwunor, a Lagos-based private lawyer, took over the case from the former prosecuting lawyer, Kpoobari Sigalo.
Mr Abasiodiong Ekpenyong, lawyer to the accused, on Thursday, said in court that the new Mr Onwuenwunor did not obtain a fiat from the attorney general of the federation to prosecute the case on behalf of INEC.
Mr Ekpenyong argued that since INEC is a federal commission established by an act of the National Assembly, the prosecution lawyer should have obtained a fiat from the attorney general of the federation and not the state attorney general.
He said the fiat by state attorney general authorising Onwuenwunor to enter the case, was dated 11th January, 2021, which was four months after the matter had commenced. He said a fiat should be issued before the commencement of the case.
A fiat is a legal document which indicates that an attorney general, either at a federal or state level, has delegated some of his powers to a private individual to prosecute an offence.
Mr Onwuenwunor, in his argument, said that when the defence counsel challenged his appearance in the matter, he (Onwuenwunor) presented INEC’s letter of engagement and a copy of the fiat by the state attorney general.
He stated that there was no law that stops a prosecutor from changing its lawyer at any time in a case.
Mr Onwuenwunor, who cited legal authorities to support his position, further argued that the letter of engagement by INEC was binding under Section 150 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010.
Section 150 (2) of the Electoral Act 2010 (as amended) states, “Prosecution (of offences) under this Act shall be undertaken by legal officers of the Commission (INEC) or any legal practitioner appointed by it.”
Justice Bassey Nkanang urged both counsels to make concise arguments to enable him rule on the matter “because the case had dragged on for too long”.
Mr Uduk, a professor of Human Kinetics in the Department of Physical and Health Education, University of Uyo, was an ad-hoc official of INEC and the returning officer for the Essien Udim State Constituency election in 2019.
He is accused of generating false scores during the election.
He was first arraigned in December 2020 and last appeared in court in January 2021, before Thursday’s.
Justice Nkanang adjourned the case to December 14 for adoption of written submissions.
Another university professor, Peter Ogban, was jailed in March, in Akwa Ibom for election fraud.
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