The Federal Government has accused the Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Abuja of illegally transferring a partly-heard bribery case of a former member of the House of Representatives, Mr. Farouk Lawan, from one judge to another.
The Federal Government stated this before an Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal, where it is challenging the transferring of the bribery case to another judge by the FCT CJ in March 2017.
Lawan, who was the chairman of the House of Representatives Ad hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy in 2012, is being prosecuted for allegedly receiving a $620,000 bribe from the chairman of Zenon Petroleum and Gas Limited, Mr. Femi Otedola.
The case, was initially being presided over by Justice Angela Otaluka.
The case was however in March 2017, re-assigned to Justice Yusuf Halilu of the FCT High Court in Jabi, Abuja.
In his ruling delivered on October 17, 2017, Halilu dismissed the Federal Government’s application for the case to be returned to the former trial judge, Justice Otaluka, of the Lugbe Division of the court.
Uncomfortable with the ruling, the private lawyer prosecuting Lawan on behalf of the Federal Government, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), filed a three-ground notice of appeal and subsequently his appellant’s brief against Justice Halilu’s ruling.
In his appeal, he argued that the transfer of the part-heard case, which was nearing conclusion before Otaluka to Justice Halilu, was not only wrong but illegal, adding that the FCT CJ acted without jurisdiction.
Awomolo went further to contend that the transfer of the case from Justice Otaluka to Halilu after four out of the five proposed prosecution witnesses had testified, was against the provision of Section 98(2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.
He insisted that Section 98(2) of the ACJA expressly provides that the power of the Chief Judge to transfer a case “shall not be exercised” where the prosecution had called even one witness let alone four out of the five proposed witnesses.
Lawan is being prosecuted by the Federal Government through the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation on amended four counts of dishonestly collecting $500,000 out of the $3 million bribe he allegedly demanded from Otedola.
Lawan allegedly accepted $500,000 as a bribe for the removal of Otedola’s company’s name, Zenon Petroleum and Gas Limited, from the list of firms indicted by the Lawan-led House committee for supposedly abusing the fuel subsidy regime in 2012.
FCT CJ, Justice Bello acting on a petition submitted by Lawan in March 2017, had withdrawn the case from Justice Otaluka and re-assigned it to Justice Halilu at a time when four out of the five proposed witnesses in the matter had been called.