The planned re-arraignment of a former Governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayodele Fayose, before the Federal High Court in Lagos was stalled on Friday as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission said it had begun a new investigation on the ex-governor.
The EFCC had on October 22, 2018, arraigned Fayose for an alleged fraud of N2.2bn. before Justice Mojisola Olatoregun six days after he completed his tenure as governor.
He was arraigned alongside his firm, Spotless Limited, on 11 counts bordering on criminal breach of trust, theft and money laundering.
The prosecution had opened trial on November 19, 2018, and had called 13 witnesses out of the 15 witnesses listed when the EFCC wrote a petition to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Adamu Abdu-Kafarati, requesting that the case be transferred from Justice Olatoregun and the case was subsequently transferred to Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke.
During Friday proceedings, counsel for Fayose, Ola Olanipekun (SAN), informed the court of an application before the court seeking that the matter should be returned to the former trial judge, Justice Olatoregun.
He said, “We filed an application seeking that this matter should be returned to your learned brother, Justice Olatoregun who has indeed heard 13 out of 15 witnesses in this suit. Whether or not we are going to proceed with the application is another issue, this is a criminal proceeding where the EFCC is a nominal complainant and the main complainant is the Federal Republic of Nigeria.”
Aligning himself with the submission of Olanipekun, counsel for the second defendant, Olalekan Ojo (SAN), noted that the transfer of the case to another judge by the CJ was a rape on the rule of law, adding that the defendants have been foisted with the situation of total helplessness.
He said, “The administrative decision of the CJ of the Federal High Court is an example par excellence of a rape on the rule of law and it is sad precedence in the administration of the criminal justice law in Nigeria. Unfortunately, the defendants have been foisted with the situation of total helplessness and victory in respect of this application is not of any benefit to the defendants giving that Justice Olatoregun would be retiring in November.”
However, counsel for the defendants urged the court to stand the matter down to allow them to confer with their clients on whether the application before the court should be moved and Justice Aneke stood the matter down.
At the resumption of the matter, Olanipekun informed the court that the defendants had opted to withdraw the objection to the arraignment.
He said, “In view of the fact that my Lord Justice Olatoregun’s tenure on the bench will soon come to an end, the defendant has opted to withdraw all objections to transfer of the case file to this honourable court as we have no preference whatsoever for a particular judge.
“We have absolute confidence in your Lordship but our concern was merely for the rule of law and that this suit should not be cited as precedent that the CJ can transfer any case that is personal.”
Upon the withdrawal of the objection by the defence, counsel for EFCC, S.A Obafemi, informed the court that the arraignment of the ex-governor could not go on as he was being investigated on other matters.
He said, “This matter is coming up for the first time before your lordship for the first time and the information we gathered from our client is that the first defendant in this matter is still been investigated for other matters.
“Therefore, the arraignment will not be possible this morning (Friday). We are yet to be briefed by our client on further steps to be taken. We apologize to the court but this is the predicament we find ourselves and we crave the indulgence of the court to give another date for the defendants to be arraigned.”
Opposing the application for adjournment and urging the court to allow the defendants to take their plea, Olanipekun noted that the EFCC started investigating the ex-governor before the completion of his tenure as the governor of Ekiti State, adding that the activities of the EFCC which disturbed Fayose’s tenure made him write to the commission notifying them of his intention to submit himself to the anti-graft agency after his tenure.
However, Justice Aneke upheld the prayer of the EFCC and adjourned until July 2 for re-arraignment.