A federal judge in Lagos on Thursday ruled that a second prosecution witness in the criminal suit against former Abia State Governor, Orji Kalu, and others was not fit to give evidence.
Justice Mohammed Idris upheld the argument of the defence counsel who argued that Christina Ohiri, a bank manager, was not competent to appear before the court.
The defence lawyers’ objection was on the grounds that Mrs. Ohiri was not listed among the 19 witnesses enlisted by the prosecution to give evidence during the trial.
“It is clear that Mrs. Ohiri was not listed as one of the witnesses in the proof of evidence front loaded and served on the defence by the prosecution,” said the judge.
“This failure cannot be waved aside as it is a fundamental breach of Section 397(1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and Section 36 of the Constitution which states that an accused person must be given adequate time and facility to prepare his defence.”
It was the first decision by the judge that had gone in favour of Mr. Kalu who is facing a 34-count charge of money laundering amounting to N3.2 billion.
Joined as defendants in the trial are Mr. Kalu’s company, Slok Nigeria Limited, and his former aide, Udeh Udeogu.
On Tuesday, Mr. Idris had ruled that the prosecution’s first witness, Onovai Oghenevoh, be allowed to give evidence after the defence lawyers raised an objection.
The judge also ruled against Mr. Kalu, on Wednesday, deciding that documents tendered by Mr. Oghenevoh were admissible as evidence. The defence lawyers had also argued that the document was signed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and not the bank who issued it.
But when the EFCC’s second witness, Mrs. Ohiri, took to the witness stand later on Wednesday to give evidence, the defence lawyers, again, raised an objection; describing it as an “ambush,” forcing the judge to adjourn proceedings till Thursday to deliver his ruling on the argument.
On Thursday, Mr. Idris ordered the prosecution counsel to regularise all processes and serve all the necessary documents on the defence counsel.
“The witness is not properly before this court,” the judge stated, upholding the defence counsels’ objection.
“Justice rushed is justice crushed.”
Following the judge’s decision, the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, requested that he be allowed to just use his pen to include Mrs. Ohiri’s name in the prosecution’s list of witnesses “so that the case can proceed immediately.”
“Or, in the alternative, stand the matter down for a few minutes so I can file an additional proof of evidence and serve it on the defence counsel in court,” said Mr. Jacobs, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.
The defence lawyers described Mr. Jacob’s proposition as “an attempt to rubbish the ruling” of the judge.
Justice Idris turned down the request.
“Compliance with Section 397(1) is mandatory,” the judge said.
“It is an issue that goes to the foundation of a criminal trial. The prosecution should take immediate steps to comply with the provisions of Section 397(1) of the ACJA.”
The judge adjourned the trial till April 10, 11, 12, and 13.