A FEDERAL High Court in Kano has ordered the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to produce Abdulkareem Zaura, the Senatorial candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for Kano Central, for trial.
Zaura is facing arraignment in a fraud-related case.
Presiding judge Justice Mohammad Nasiru Yinusa gave the order on Thursday after the prosecution again informed the court that the defendant was absent, just like in the previous two sittings.
Zaura was accused of defrauding a Kuwaiti national of $1.3 million and was billed for arraignment after the Court of Appeal quashed an earlier ruling that discharged and acquitted him, and ordered his retrial.
During the court sitting on Thursday, his counsel, Ibrahim Waru, noted that the matter was adjourned for the adoption of written addresses regarding whether or not the defendant must be present in court before an application challenging jurisdiction can be taken.
In his response, the prosecution counsel Abdulkareem Arogha told the court that the said application was not ripe for hearing because the defendant was absent.
Noting that they are trying to bring the defendant to court, he urged the court to decline to hear the application in the absence of the defendant.
Delivering a bench ruling, Justice Yinusa held that the position of the court was that the defendant should be produced and that where that has not been done, the court must insist that due process be followed.
The judge added that the issue of appearance in a criminal matter is a constitutional issue.
He held that the starting point of a criminal trial is an arraignment, which means that the defendant must be placed in the dock, and the charge read to him after which he then takes his plea.
“There is no order from the Appeal Court or the Supreme Court that restrained the court from performing its duty in this case,” the judge held, adding that the position of the law is that the defendant must be in court for the commencement of the trial before any application can be taken.
“Having said that, the court can not allow the adoption of the addresses without compliance to the process,” the judge ruled.
He thereafter adjourned the matter to December 5 for the arraignment of the defendant.
The judge ordered the prosecution to ensure the APC candidate was produced in court.
At the last sitting, the EFCC prosecution counsel, Aisha Habib, told the court that Zaura is nowhere to be found.
“This is a criminal case, and the defendant must be in court to answer his plea even if he is challenging the court’s jurisdiction to arraign him.
“This is a total disrespect; the defendant has to be in court before he can file an application challenging the jurisdiction of the court to arraign him,” Habib said.
Counsel to the defendant, Ibrahim Garba Waru, had argued that “at this stage of the proceedings the presence of the defendant was not mandatory”.
“Section 266(b) of Administration of Criminal Justice Law(ACJL) 2015 says in a criminal trial the presence of the defendant is necessary but where there is an exception of an interlocutory application challenging the jurisdiction of the court to arraign him cannot take place,” he added.
Waru said the defendant was not in court because he was not physically fit.
A panel of Justices of the Court of Appeal presided by Justice Abdullahi Bayero had struck out the judgment of Justice Lewis Allagoa of a Federal High Court which discharged Zaura of the alleged theft in June 2020.
The Court of Appeal, Kano Division, in April 2022 ordered a retrial of the case.