A LETTER reportedly written by Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice Abubakar Malami to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has stalled the trial of a former minister of aviation Stella Oduah for alleged corruption.
Oduah, the Senator representing Anambra North, is being prosecuted before an Abuja Federal High Court by the EFCC for allegedly misappropriating N5 billion when she served as aviation minister.
Those accused alongside Oduah include Gloria Odita, Nwosu Emmanuel Nnamdi, Chukwuma Irene Chinyere, Global Offshore and Marine Limited, Tip Top Global Resources Limited, Crystal Television Limited and Sobora International Limited.
They were charged with conspiracy and money laundering, including maintaining and operating anonymous bank accounts.
Oduah and her co-accused persons were to be arraigned on November 22 but the arraignment could not take place due to the letter reportedly written to the EFCC by the AGF.
The senator and the other accused persons were about to be arraigned, and take their plea, when one of the defense lawyers Ogwu Onoja, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), informed the court about a petition to the AGF, dated January 29, in respect of the charge.
Onoja told the court that the petition complained to the AGF that Oduah and the other defendants were being persecuted unjustly.
The lawyer further informed the court that, having received the petition, the AGF wrote the EFCC asking for the case file of the charges filed against Oduah.
According to Onoja, the EFCC has refused to remit the file to the AGF.
Asking the court to discontinue the arraignment, the lawyer wondered whether the EFCC has the powers to ignore the AGF’s request for a case file for the review a criminal charge.
Onoja tendered a certified true copy of the AGF’s letter, which was received by the EFCC chairman, to back up his application.
But EFCC lawyer Ofem Uket said he did not know about the AGF’s letter.
Uket said he was hearing about the letter for the first time in court.
However, acting on the information provided by Oduah’s lawyer, the presiding judge Justice Inyang Ekwo observed that the attention of the court has been drawn to a letter that the case file be remitted to the AGF for review.
Ekwo noted that since a statutory and constitutional issue have been raised, the court would not go ahead to hear the case summarily.
The judge therefore ordered parties to file written addresses on the issue and adjourned the case to February 10, 2022.
* Oduah defected to APC from PDP in August
The development is coming about three months after Oduah defected to the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
APC National Director for Publicity Salisu Dambatta announced Oduah’s defection in a statement issued in Abuja on August 26.
Oduah, a member of the Senate committee on the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) joined the APC about a month after she stayed away from the vote conducted by the Senate to decide on the inclusion of a provision for electronic transmission of election results in the Electoral Act.
The Senate had on the day of the voting – July 15 – passed the Electoral Act amendment bill with a controversial Section 52(3) which stated that the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) with the approval of the National Assembly, would determine whether the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) could transmit results electronically or not.
Following severe pressure from Nigerians, the Senate would eventually, on October 12 reverse itself to allow INEC to transmit election results electronically.
Oduah was among a number of PDP senators that stayed away from the July 15 vote, despite the fact that the national leadership of the PDP – her party at the time – had instructed the party’s members in the National Assembly to support the inclusion of a provision for transmission of election results by electronic means in the Electoral Act.
Although Oduah later explained that she abstained from voting on the electronic transmission of election results because she did not want to reject the work (the INEC committee report) she was part of, her absence was linked to the ongoing corruption trial she was facing before the Abuja Federal High Court.
The court had on July 12, just three days before the vote on electronic transmission of election results came up at the Senate, threatened to issue a warrant of arrest against Oduah if she failed to appear in court on October 19, the next adjourned date in her trial.
The trial judge Justice Inyang Ekwo issued the warning after the EFCC counsel in the alleged N5 billion trial against Oduah told the court that the former minister was not in court to take her plea.
There were insinuations that Oduah’s absence during the vote on electronic transmission was a ploy to curry the favour of the ruling APC for a soft landing in the corruption trial.
The insinuations appeared to have been confirmed when Oduah defected to the APC about a month after.
The latest development in the corruption charge filed against her by the EFCC has lent further credence to the insinuations.