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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Court adjourns Yahaya Bello’s arraignment to July 17, as parties sharply disagree, threaten contempt proceedings, amid ex-Gov’s request for case transfer to Lokoja

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A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has adjourned arraignment of the immediate past Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, on an alleged money laundering case instituted against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, to July 17, 2024.

At the resumed hearing on Thursday, the former governor’s lawyer, Adeola Adedipe, SAN, brought the court’s attention to an application before the Chief Judge for transfer of charge no: FHC/ABJ/CR/98/2024 to Federal High Court, Lokoja, pursuant to Section 45 of the Federal High Court Establishment Act.

He said the Prosecution had been notified and their opinion had been sought via a letter dated 14th June, 2024 from the Chief Judge’s office.

The letter, addressed to EFCC Counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, SAN, was signed by the Special Assistant to the Chief Judge, Joshua Ibrahim AJI, Esq.

“You will find attached the copy of a letter by Counsel to the Defendant on the above subject matter, dated 10th June, 2024.

“I am directed by His Lordship, the Honourable, the Chief Judge, to forward the letter to you for your response within 6 (six) days of receipt,” the letter read in part.

The former governor was supposed to appear in court on June 13, the last adjourned date, but for the EFCC counsels’ decision to seek adjournment to June 27, having indicated that the previous date would not be convenient.

Adedipe reminded the court that his appearance at the last hearing was accidental and that this would be seen from the court’s records.

He said, “After the proceeding on that day, and we gave him the report of what happend in court, I was made to understand that a letter had been written on behalf of the defendant to the Honourable Chief Judge of the FHC requesting in substance that this matter be administratively transferred to the FHC Lokoja judicial division believed to have territorial jurisdcition.

In the EFCC’s charge, the offence was said to have been committed when the former Governor was Governor of Kogi State.

Adedipe said, “The letter was received and the office of the Honourable Chief judge of FHC did write to the prosecution team through Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, SAN, on 14th June, 2024, notifying him that the honourable chief judge of FHC had activated administrative process to that request whereof it was directed that he should provide a response to the request of counsel made on behalf of the defendant.”

He said the issue was no longer in the hands of the bar but the bench.

“After the last case, a letter was written. This issue is no longer in the hands of the bar but the bench. If the honorable chief judge has taken an initiative, I need to give him the necessary respect.”

The prosecution counsel, Kemi Pinheiro (SAN), disagreed, saying that the matter was for arraignment and that the former Governor’s counsel had, on June 13, undertaken to produce the defendant in court.

“The letter to the CJ doesn’t discharge the undertaking. It’s not a judicial decision,” he said.

“Since no reason has been offered by Adeola, your lordship should treat this as professional misconduct and contempt of court,” the EFCC lawyer urged.

In his response, Adeola said he had already told the court that his appearance on June 13 was accidental.

“I only appeared in the matter that day when I noticed the senior advocate was in court contrary to the prior agreement.

“Because Mr Pinheiro sent a letter to Mr Wahab, the lead counsel for the defendant, saying that the set date won’t be convenient and it was decided that junior lawyers will be sent to court to take dates,” he argued.

But Pinheiro argued that since the defendant had not been produced despite the undertaking of two senior advocates of Nigeria, he would be moving an application of contempt against them.

Adeola cut in, saying that the EFCC counsels were trying to trade blames where none existed, and indicated his interest in withdrawing from the case, considering the posture of the EFCC counsels on the matter.

After arguments back and forth, Justice Emeka Nwite adjourned to July 17 for ruling and arraignment.

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