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Alleged N7.6bn fraud: Kalu makes a U-turn, challenges judge’s jurisdiction

Alleged N7.6bn fraud: Kalu makes a U-turn, challenges judge’s jurisdiction

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Oladimeji Ramon

A former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, who was charged with an alleged fraud of N7.6bn, has urged Justice Mohammed Idris to stop hearing his case, contending that the judge lacks jurisdiction.

Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), who appeared for Kalu in court on Wednesday, argued that Justice Idris could no longer hear the case because the judge had been elevated from the Federal High Court to the Court of Appeal.

Quoting sections  238, 239, 240 , 252 and 253 of the 1999 Constitution, Ozekhome argued that it had become illegal for Justice Idris to continue to hear the case, having been elevated.

The 11-year-old case was transferred to Justice Idris late 2016 with Kalu and his company, Slok Nigeria Limited, and Ude Udeogu, a former Director of Finance and Accounts at the Abia State Government House, re-arraigned on October 31, 2016 on 34 counts.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission closed its case on May 11, 2018 after calling a total of 19 witnesses.

The defendants filed applications for no-case submission, but before the applications could be heard, Justice Idris was elevated to the Court of Appeal from the Federal High Court in Lagos.

To enable the judge to continue to hear the case, despite being elevated, Kalu’s lawyer, Prof Awa Kalu (SAN), applied to the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, for Justice Idris to be given a fiat to continue hearing the case.

Justice Bulkachuwa granted the fiat and said the case must be concluded by the end of September.

Having got the fiat to continue the case, Justice Idris on July 31 ruled on the defendants’ no-case submissions and dismissed the applications.

He ordered them to proceed to defend themselves.

But rather than proceed immediately to open his defence, Kalu prayed for a six-week adjournment to embark on a medical trip to Germany for an unspecified surgical operation.

Justice Idris granted the adjournment and fixed September 13 for further proceedings.

But on September 13, Kalu was nowhere to be found, with his lawyer, Mr Gordy Uche (SAN), explaining that he was held up in Germany to the displeasure of the judge, who was forced to further adjourn till September 20.

On September 20, counsel for the the second and third defendants urged Justice Idris to stay further proceedings in the case, saying they had appealed against the dismissal of their no-case submissions.

But the judge rejected the applications, holding that the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 had outlawed stay of proceedings in criminal cases.

When the case resumed on September 21, Kalu’s lawyer, Prof Awa Kalu (SAN), said the ex-governor was ready to testify in his own defence but he would not enter into the witness box, so that the EFCC lawyer, Mr Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), would not be able to cross-examine him.

Jacobs objected, insisting that there was no way Kalu would testify and not be cross-examined.

In a bench ruling, Justice Idris held that Kalu was at liberty to make a statement rather enter the witness box to testify.

He adjourned till Wednesday for Kalu to open his defence.

However, rather than open his defence on Wednesday, Ozekhome appeared for the ex-governor, insisting that Justice Idris must stop hearing the case because he had been elavated to the Court of Appeal.

But Jacobs urged Justice Idris to reject the prayer, noting that it was Kalu’s main lawyer, Prof Awa Kalu (SAN), who in June applied for a fiat for the judge to continue and conclude the case despite being elevated.

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