© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Why Supreme Court annulled conviction of ex-Gov Orji-Kalu
**as EFCC moves for immediate retrial
FIVE months after a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos State convicted and sentenced an ex-governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, to 12 years in prison for N7.65 billion fraud, the Supreme Court on Friday, annulled the conviction.
Kalu was tried alongside his company, Slok Nigeria Limited, and Udeh Udeogu, a former Director of Finance and Accounts at the Abia State Government House during Kalu’s tenure as governor.
In an amended 39-counts charge, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) accused them of conspiring and diverting over N7 billion from the state’s coffers.
As a result, in a judgement delivered by Justice Mohammed Idris, he was declared guilty of the charge against him and sentenced to a 12-year jail term.
However, in a new development, the apex court through a decision reached by a seven-man panel of Justices, led by Justice Amina Augie held today, that the Federal High Court in Lagos acted without jurisdiction when it convicted Kalu, his firm and Udeogu.
According to the panel, Justice Idris who delivered the previous judgement had already been elevated to the Court of Appeal, and as such, had no power to sit as a High Court Judge.
It also held that the fiat that was issued to him (Kalu) by the Court of Appeal pursuant to section 396 (7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act was unconstitutional.
As a result, the apex court quashed the judgement that convicted the defendants and ordered a fresh trial process.
We will launch new trial – EFCC
Meanwhile, the EFCC says it will immediately commence the re-arraignment of the former governor.
The Commission in a statement issued by Dele Oyewale Head, Media and Publicity described the apex’s court judgement as ‘unfortunate’ and ‘technical ambush’ against trial of Kalu.
It emphasised its readiness to commence a fresh and immediate retrial as the evidence against Kalu and others joined in the suit were enormous.
“The corruption charges against Kalu still subsist because the Supreme Court did not acquit him of them. The entire prosecutorial machinery of the EFCC would be launched in a fresh trial where justice is bound to be served in due course,” the statement partly read.
I look forward to joining my colleagues in the Senate-Orji-Kalu
However, the former Governor expressed readiness to resume his duties at the upper chamber of the National Assembly.
The ICIR earlier reported why the lawmaker would continue to retain his seat despite serving term.
But Orji-Kalu said his five-month in jail, although challenging, provided him with the opportunity to learn invaluable lessons about Nigeria’s justice system and the country as a whole.
The lawmaker, in a statement issued and signed by him after the judgment, maintained that he was unjustly convicted, stressing that his case had broadened his perspective on issues of justice and injustices in Nigeria.
“My case is a true Nigerian story with a bold MADE-IN-NIGERIA stamp on it. It is a story of initial injustice that was caught and ultimately corrected. It is a story of restoration,” he stated.
“It is a story of how wrong was righted and how justice and truth prevailed in the end.”
In view of this, Kalu vowed to pursue justice for Nigerians irrespective of tribe, noting that a system where over 70 per cent of all prison inmates population is made up of people awaiting trial should not persist.
“A situation where innocent people are falsely charged with murder just to get them out of the way does not dignify our country and cannot continue. Justice must now mean justice for all. That is my pledge to Nigerians,” he stated.