The Abuja division of the Court of Appeal, on December 6, 2017 set aside order of then Chief Judge of the Federal High Court Abuja, Justice Ibrahim Auta, re-assigning the trial of Sule Lamido, from Justice Adeniyi Ademola, to Justice Babatunde Quadri.
Lamido, a former governor of Jigawa State, is standing trial along with his sons, Aminu and Mustapha; Wada Abubakar, Bamaina Holdings Ltd, Bamaina Company Nigeria Ltd, Bamaina Aluminium Limted and Speeds Intl Ltd, on an amended 43-count charge of money laundering.
He is alleged to have abused his office as governor between 2007 and 2015, in awarding contracts to companies in which he and his sons had interests. They were first arraigned before Justice Ademola on a 27-count charge, on September 22, 2015, but upon the judge standing trial at a Federal Capital Territory High Court, Maitama, for alleged money laundering offence, Justice Auta, re-assigned the case to Justice Quadri, before whom it started de novo.
Counsel for Lamido, Kanu Agabi, SAN, had approached the Appellate Court, after Justice Quadri of a Federal High Court Abuja, dismissed two applications brought before the court, one asking that the case be returned to Justice Ademola before whom Lamido’s trial began in 2015, and another accusing the trial judge of bias.
Counsel for EFCC, Chile Okoroma, had argued that transferring the case to Justice Ademola could “raise issues on the likelihood of bias”, noting that Joe Agi, SAN, a counsel for Lamido, stood trial along with Justice Ademola, who retires in March 2018, before they were later acquitted of the charges.
Justice Quadri, while dismissing the applications, had ruled that: “In respect to the circumstances of this case, nowhere is it said in the ACJA that where the trial judge is unable to be present for proceeding in a matter, the Chief Judge is constrained from re-assigning the case.
“At the time the case was transferred, Justice Ademola was not sitting. As it is, amendments have already been made to the charges, upon which the present application was made and argued in this court.”
However, today’s ruling, which was read by Justice O. Elechi of the Court of Appeal, a member of the three-man panel, consisting Justice O. Belgore and Justice O. Akinbami, it was decided that Section 98 (2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA 2015 was sacrosanct in the instance, as witnesses had already appeared before Justice Ademola.
He held that: “The power of the Chief Judge shall not be exercised where the prosecution has called witnesses, and in the instance the prosecution has called 18 witnesses, and so in light of the above, this issue is resolved in favour of the appellant, and the application is highly meritorious and is hereby allowed, and in the circumstance, order of the Chief Judge transferring case cannot stand and is hereby set aside and ordered to be re-assigned to Justice Ademola for continuation of trial before him.”