Sylvester Ngwuta, a justice of the Supreme Court of Nigeria, who is currently facing corruption charges, has pleaded with Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High Court, Abuja, to grant him more time in order to adequately prepare his defence.
Ngwuta is one of the Judges whose residences were raided by operatives of the Department of State Services, DSS, in October, following allegations of corruption and accepting gratifications in order to deliver Judgement.
He was subsequently slammed with a 16-count charge of money laundering, age falsification and illegal possession of multiple international passports, and was docked on November 21, but pleaded not guilty.
Justice Tsoho subsequently granted him bail to the sum of N100 million, but on the resumption of trial on Wednesday, counsel to Ngwuta, Kanu Agabi, a former Attorney General of the Federation, pleaded with the court for more time.
The prosecution counsel, Charles Adeogun-Philips, a former attorney at the International Criminal Court of Justice, ICC, told the court that he was ready for the trial to commence and has three witnesses in court to enter evidence against the accused person.
“My lord we are ready to open our case today. Our witnesses are in court and we have all our arsenals ready”, Adeogun-Philips said.
However, Agabi told the court that the defence team was anxious for the trial to commence, “however, we will be pleading with your lordship to grant us an adjournment so that we can be fully prepared.”
“We have so many documents yet to access. Under the constitution, the defendant requires adequate time to prepare for his defence,” Agabi said.
He also prayed the court to direct the prosecution to furnish him with all the documents he intends to adduce in the course of the trial.
The prosecution counsel vehemently opposed the adjournment application, urging the court to refuse the request and order the matter for immediate trial.
“My lord I am terribly astonished by my friend’s application this morning. This matter was fixed by consent of parties on November 21,” Adeogun-Philips said.
He also referred to Section 396(3) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, which makes provision for day-to-day trial of the defendant.
“My lord this is indeed a high profile trial and there is need for expediency”, the prosecution counsel submitted.
He further pointed out that the prosecution had expended a good amount of resources in order to bring the witnesses to court, and asked the court to allow the prosecution to open its case and then adjourn to enable the defence to cross-examine the witnesses later.
But defence councel, Agabi, also pointed out that under the ACJA, his client was entitled to five adjournment requests, adding however that “after today we won’t ask for another.”
Ruling on the application, Justice Tsoho acknowledged that section 396(4) of the ACJA indeed made provision for a maximum adjournment of five times.
He also agreed with the defence that section 36(6) of the 1999 constitution which allows a defence to have adequate time and facilities to prepare his defence, has a wider scope, saying it also encompasses the mental preparedness of an accused to stand trial.
“Viewed towards this perspective, this court is inclined to grant the request of the defence counsel”, Justice Tsoho ruled, especially given that it was the first indulgence sought by the defendant.
The matter was eventually adjourned till January 18 and 23, 2017, for trial.
Recall that the prosecution had earlier opposed Ngwuta’s bail application release, arguing that he could interfere with evidence.
It told the court that immediately Ngwuta was granted administrative bail by the DSS, he quickly called one of the proposed witnesses to help him conceal some of the evidence against him, including N27million he hid in his bathroom at Abakaliki in Ebonyi State.