Lawyers react as Fayose rejects EFCC’s request to change trial judge.
A former governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, has urged Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdul Kafarati, to dismiss Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)’s petition seeking to transfer his trial before Justice Mojisola Olatoregun to another judge over alleged bias.
Fayose, through his counsel, Ola Olanipekun (SAN) said the petition was misconceived, unsustainable and frivolous.
His words: “The petition is a subtle attempt to intimidate and stampede the court into doing what EFCC likes or wants in disregard of provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 and right of the first defendant to expeditious hearing of his case, as well as the need to avoid wasting public funds and scarce judicial time on de-novo trial.
“No party in a criminal case should be allowed to choose or determine the Judge to hear its or his case. Granting such a request for transfer will constitute a dangerous precedent, which will imperil the much-cherished independence of the judiciary as the bastion of the rule of law.”
He argued that it is also important to note that the defense has always put the prosecution on notice with regard to all correspondences between the defense and the court in the course of the trial and wondered why the EFCC chose not to inform the defense about its petition to the CJ.
Fayose argued that the purported petition requesting transfer of the part-heard criminal case in which prosecution has called 10 witnesses is “legally misconceived having regard to provisions of Section 98(2) of the ACJA 2015 and the recent Court of Appeal decision in the case of F.R.N V. LAWAN (2018) LPELR-43973 (C-A).”
Acting Chairman of EFCC, Ibrahim Magu, had on March 21, 2019, prayed the CJ to reassign the trial to another court, following the outburst of the trial judge against its counsel, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) during March 20, 2019 proceedings.
EFCC alleged that the judge hails from the same state with Fayose and a prince of Ijero Kingdom of Ekiti State.
It claimed that she engaged in unrestrained, unprovoked and unwarranted vituperations against the Commission’s prosecuting counsel, an indication that she has an ax to grind with him and the EFCC.
“It is obvious that Justice Olatoregun cannot dispassionately and transparently try this case and we are constrained to state that we have lost confidence in her ability to do so. We, therefore, request your lordship to transfer it to another judge of your court to try it,” Magu said.
EFCC’s Spokesman, Tony Orilade, confirmed that the Commission sent the letter yesterday.
Following the development, some senior lawyers have expressed the view that transferring a case for which the prosecution had called 10 witnesses contravenes the provision of section 98(2) of the ACJA 2015.
A Lagos-based lawyer, Theophilus Akanwa, argued that the provisions of section 98 (2) of the ACJA 2015 were clear on the extent of the Chief Judge’s powers to transfer cases from one court to another.
Also, Inibehie Effiong supported the view that section 98 (2) of the ACJA allows a Chief Judge to transfer a case from one judge to another except where witnesses have been called.
Speaking, Executive Director, Access to Justice, Joseph Otteh, noted that section 98 of ACJA does appear to suggest that a Chief Judge could not make a transfer once the prosecution has called witnesses, more so, when it has called 10 witnesses.
He, therefore, argued that section 98(2) was not the end of the matter and would not foreclose the power of a CJ to transfer a matter when the fair hearing had become an issue.