The treason trial of the leader of Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, Nnamdi Kanu, will still go on despite the withdrawal of another judge from the case, lawyers have said.
Justice John Tsoho of the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court had on Monday stepped down from the case following a petition by Mr. Kanu to the National Judicial Council, demanding the probe of the judge.
In the petition through his lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, the IPOB leader said the judge gave parallel judgements on the same request, describing it as “judicial rascality”.
Upon resumption of the matter on Monday, Mr. Ejiofor said after Mr. Tsoho decided in favour of the defence in an application for the protection of witnesses by the prosecution, and later ruled in favour of the prosecution, without seeking the permission of a higher court.
The judge, after stepping aside, vowed not to preside over the case even if it was returned to him.
“Even if I am cleared of any bias by the NJC, I will not continue with this case,” he said.
Mr. Tsoho was the second judge to hands off the case. Justice Ahmed Mohammed, also of the Federal High Court, withdrew in December 2015, after Mr. Kanu said he had no confidence in him.
The IPOB leader, who has been in detention since October, is facing treason charges preferred against him by the Nigerian government.
Although Mr. Kanu, brought to court when Mr. Tsoho was giving his ruling, was calm, members of his family as well as his supporters were excited over the withdrawal of the judge from the case.
His mother, two sisters and a brother, alongside the supporters were heard hailing the withdrawal of the judge.
Lawyers who spoke to PREMIUM TIMES on Monday, said the withdrawal of the judges would not lead to the termination of the case.
“It doesn’t end there,” a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mike Ahamba, said. “The chief judge knows what to do. There are many judges in the court. The chief judge will reassign the case to another judge.”
Another lawyer, Yusuf Ali, said in such situations, the case file would be sent back to the chief judge to act on.
He said: “The case is not terminated. The case file will be sent to the chief judge to reassign.”
Mr. Ali however said the case would have to start afresh if the judge that stepped down was already hearing it.
Tunji Abayomi told this newspaper that the case will go back to the judge to be re-assigned.
Another lawyer, Jiti Ogunye, said the case would continue until the last judge in the judiciary stepped down from it.
“Technically, the case will continue until the last judge in the judiciary withdraws from the case. There are many judges to try the case. The case will continue,” Mr. Ogunye said.
“In reality however, when judges withdraw from a case it makes it more difficult for other judges to take it because it would appear as if judges are passing buck.”
The lawyer explained that judges withdraw from cases upon discovery there was conflict of interest.