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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Updated: Judge Nwite slams Yahaya Bello’s lawyer: You are the one misleading him as ex-gov. agrees to submit to court for arraignment June 13

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By Yemi Oyeyemi, Abuja

Details of what Justice Emeka Nwite told Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Abdulwahab Mohammed, the lawyer of former Kogi State Governor, Yahaya Bello, have been released in a statement credited to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Justice Nwite came down hard on the defence lawyer after listening to the submissions of the defence and prosecuting counsels. “You are the one who is misleading the defendant. What is your fear? How many people have you heard that the EFCC killed? The EFCC is a law-abiding agency. Is your client the only past governor that has been invited by the EFCC? Bring him to court and I will entertain your applications”,  he said.

The judge made the comments after he insisted on the physical appearance of Bello for arraignment before any of his applications can be entertained by the court.

The judge further held that, Bello,  who is facing prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC on an alleged N80.2billion fraud,  is acting in disrespect and contempt of the court by resisting lawful arraignment and as such lacks any entitlement for his applications to be heard by the same court.

He made the ruling following applications of Bello’s lawyer, Abdulwahab Mohammed, SAN, on April 23, 2024 for the revocation of the arrest warrant issued by the court on the former governor and the determination of the court’s jurisdiction in entertaining the trial as well as the preliminary objection for the enforcement of Bello’s fundamental human rights as ruled by Kogi State High Court, Lokoja.

Prosecution counsel, Kemi Pinhero,  SAN,  had at the last sitting of the court, responded that entertaining the applications without arraignment of the defendant was improper in the administration of criminal justice and tantamount to putting the cart before the horse.

Ruling on the matter on Friday, Justice Nwite held that any party that disrespects the court is not entitled to his prayers to be heard by the same court. “Yahaya Bello is acting in disobedience of the court. Anyone in contempt of the court is not entitled to be heard. The defendant should make himself available. He ought to make himself available in court. The defendant is taking this court for granted. The application of the defendant cannot be heard unless he is present in court,” he said.

The defence counsel responded to the ruling by praying for a stay of proceeding in the trial in the manner he claimed the Kogi State High Court, Lokoja had done pending the determination of EFCC’s appeal against the contempt proceeding initiated by Bello against EFCC’s Executive Chairman, Mr Ola Olukoyede. “We have filed a contempt proceeding against the EFCC Chairman, which has been challenged in the Appeal Court. We are applying that this court should wait for the outcome of the appeal hence the Appeal Court is a superior court,” he said.

In response, lead prosecution counsel on Friday, Rotimi Oyedepo, SAN, took umbrage at the defence team’s prayer  for a stay of proceedings, stating that such was at variance with the provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.

“My Lord did not mince words in affirming the sanctity of the court and its hallowed temple. If anyone feels that because he has attained a certain level in the society and begins to treat the court with contempt,  that is a master key and flood gates  to anarchy.

“I expected my learned counsel to thread the path of honour and clearly show that his client should not treat his Lordship and the court with disdain. His Lordship’s ruling clearly forbids entertaining applications from the defendant. My Lordship should not entertain the application until the defendant is here”

“A fugitive cannot be seeking redress in court. Section 40 of EFCC Act states that your Lordship shall not entertain any application for stay of execution. Section 306 of ACJA also states that stay of proceedings shall not be entertained”, he said.

He adjourned the matter till June 13, 2024 for Bello’s arraignment.

The EFCC is prosecuting Yahaya Bello alongside his nephew Ali Bello, Dauda Suleiman and Abdulsalam Hudu on 19-count charges bordering on money laundering to the tune of N80, 246, 470,089.88k (Eight Billion, Two Hundred and Forty-six Million, Four Hundred and Seventy Thousand and Eighty-nine Naira, Eighty-eighty Kobo).

Everyday.ng reports that Bello, on Friday finally agreed to submit himself to the Federal High Court in Abuja for arraignment on June 13.

Bello’s lead counsel, Abdulwahab Mohammed SAN, gave the undertaking to Justice Emeka Nwite shortly after the request for suspension of trial by the defendant was rejected by the court.

Earlier, the court berated Bello and restated its order for his arrest, saying he is in contempt of a subsisting court order

It held that Bello’s decision to file the application “is clearly showing his intention not to present himself for trial,” stressing that he ought to have made himself available upon becoming aware of the order of arrest that was issued against him.

“The law is settled that he who disobeyed an order of court and shown disrespect to the court cannot expect a favourable discretion of the court.

“The honourable thing the defendant would have done was to obey the order of court by making himself available.

“Section 287 of the 1999 Constitution, as amended, mandates all persons and authority to give effect to orders of court.

“He has wilfully disobeyed the order of this court. An order of court of competent jurisdiction, no matter how it was obtained, subsists until it is set aside.

“A party who refuses to obey an order of court after becoming aware of it, is in contempt of court.

“He is not entitled to be heard or granted a favourable discretion. The refusal of the defendant to make himself available is solely to truncate the arraignment and prevent the court from proceeding further in this case.

“Refusal of the defendant to make himself available in an attempt to truncate this court and make it practically impossible for the court to assume jurisdiction in this criminal trial.

“He ought to make himself available. He cannot sit in the comfort of his home to file applications before this court.

“The defendant has no atom or regard for the court. Clearly, the defendant is taking this court for granted.”

Justice Nwite held that Bello’s decision to treat the order of the court with levity, was previously condemned by the Supreme Court.

“In view of the foregoing analysis, I am of the view and I so hold, that no application can be moved or heard unless the defendant is present before the court to take his plea,” the trial judge held.

Abdulwahab claimed that the former governor was not afraid of arraignment but the safety of his life in the hands of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in Abuja.

He said that the life of his client has been under consistent threats in Abuja, hence,  his decision to go underground for safety.

The agreement to submit to court trial was informed by the remarks of Justice Nwite that EFCC as a law abiding body would not do anything against the provisions of the law.

The Judge said that Bello was not the first former governor to be merely invited by the anti-graft agency and would not be the last.

The Judge also said that the charges are based on allegations that have not been proved adding that the law even presumes any accused person innocent until proven otherwise.

He advised the senior lawyer to prevail on his client to respect the law and order of court as a law abiding person.

Bello’s lawyer in response to the admonition, thanked the Judge for the hint adding that with the assurance that EFCC would not do anything untoward, the former governor would be brought to court.

“All my client needs is just an assurance for the safety of his life which has been under threat for sometimes in Abuja.

The lawyer requested for four weeks to bring his client before the court.

He said that Bello would however come to the court instead of the EFCC to take his plea in the charges.

Based on the undertaking and no opposition from the EFCC counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo SAN, Justice Nwite fixed June 13 for Bello to appear in court for his plea to be taken.

● Additional report by Vanguard Newspaper

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