The trial of a Nigerian professor accused of election fraud was on Thursday stalled at a State High Court in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State due to a change of counsel.
Ignatius Uduk, a professor of Human Kinetics at the University of Uyo is being prosecuted by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) for the alleged unlawful generation of election results during the 2019 general elections.
The prosecution counsel, Clement Onwuenweunor, announced his appearance shortly after the case was called.
A new defence counsel, George Ezeugwu, also announced his appearance and told the court he was taking over the case from Abasiodiong Ekpenyong, the former defence counsel.
Mr Ezeugwu, who said he was briefed on Tuesday, told the court he could not get the case file from Mr Ekpenyong. He applied for records of court proceedings and an adjournment to enable him to study the case.
The prosecution, Mr Onwuenweunor, SAN, observed that the court had told the surety to the defendant during the penultimate hearing that the next proceeding “must not be scuttled on account that a new lawyer was coming to take over the matter.”
He, therefore, prayed the court to foreclose the case since “the defendant had already called two witnesses and tendered documents through them,” adding that the litigation has to end.
The trial judge, Bassey Nkanang, after hearing from both counsels, adjourned the matter to 21 February for the conclusion of the defence but warned that the court would award a punitive cost against the defence if they fail to proceed.
Addressing reporters outside the court, the prosecution vowed to apply for a foreclosure of the case – asking the court to close the case against the defendant so that the matter can be adjourned for filing of final written addresses if the defendant repeated the excuse on the new date.
The prosecution, PREMIUM TIMES learnt had closed its case on 27 January last year.
The defence counsel declined to address reporters outside the court.
Mr Uduk was an ad-hoc official of INEC and the returning officer for the Essien Udim State Constituency election in 2019.
He was first arraigned in December 2020 after an arrest warrant was issued on him the previous month over repeated failures to appear for the commencement of trial.
The professor pleaded not guilty to the three-count charge, which includes the unlawful generation of election results and lying under oath slammed on him by INEC.
During the trial, the defendant, Mr Uduk, had through his former counsel, Mr Ekpenyong, accused the judge of bias and asked him to withdraw from the case, a development that caused the judge to return the case file to the State Chief Judge, who reassigned the case to him (same judge) for the continuation of trial.
On the resumption of trial in October last year, Mr Uduk collapsed in the dock, while the prosecution was cross-examining one of the witnesses. The development forced the court to go on a recess before adjourning, while family members moved the professor to an undisclosed location, Daily Post reported.
Another professor, Peter Ogban, similarly accused of election fraud in Akwa Ibom, was convicted and sentenced to three years imprisonment in 2021.
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