JUSTICE Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court, Lagos, has suspended the corruption trial involving former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor-Kalu, until further notice.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had on October 31, 2016, brought a 34-count charge against Uzor-Kalu, accusing him of defrauding Abia State to the tune of N7.2 billion, while serving as the governor of the state between 1999 and 2007. The charges were later increased to 39 counts.
Uzor-Kalu was said to have committed the crime in connivance with one Ude Udeogo, who was his commissioner for finance at the time. Both men pleaded not guilty and were granted bail.
However, in June 2018, Idris was promoted to an Appeal Court Justice alongside 11 others, but a special waiver was granted him to continue presiding over Kanu’s case.
At the last adjourned date in November 2018, Uzor-Kalu was absent from court and his counsel informed the court that he travelled to Germany for medical purposes. But the court was displeased that the accused person left the country without first seeking and obtaining permission from the court.
Consequently, Justice Idris revoked Uzor-Kalu’s bail, and ordered him to present himself to the EFCC on his return to the country.
But Uzor-Kalu has since returned to the country and is taking active part in the re-election campaign of President Muhammadu Buhari. In fact, his name featured on the list of influential persons on the Buhari campaign council.
Recall that Uzor-Kalu had in 2016 defected from the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) on whose platform he won the governorship election two times, to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC).
At the resumption of hearing on Wednesday, counsel to the EFCC, Rotimi Jacobs, informed the court that Uzor-Kalu has refused to report himself to the EFCC as the court had directed. He urged the court to proceed with the business of the day and call the defence counsel to open its defence regardless of the accused person’s absence.
But Justice Idris said he could not continue with the case as the authorisation he had to preside over the trial had expired.
He explained that he received fresh fiats with respect to some other cases before him but that the Uzor-Kalu case was not one of them.
“I should not proceed further, otherwise, I will be acting without authority. So, in the circumstance, I am of the view that further proceedings shouldn’t go on until I receive further instructions,” Idris said.
It is not clear whether Idris would be authorised to keep presiding over the case or whether the case would be assigned to a different judge, which means that the trial will start all over.
Uzor-Kalu’s issue is one of the cases that critics of the Buhari administration always cite as a proof of the President’s one-sided approach to anti-corruption.
One would expect that Uzor-Kalu would have been taken into EFCC custody on his return from Germany since the federal high court had revoked the bail granted him.
Many have said that the fact that Uzor-Kalu was even able to travel out of the country when the court had ordered him to deposit his travel documents with the court registrar as part of his bail conditions, is another proof that there had been some sort of compromise either on the part of the EFCC or the court officials, or both.
Uzor-Kalu, himself a senatorial candidate on the platform of the APC, is one of the moneybags financing Buhari’s re-election.