The Federal Government yesterday urged the Court of Appeal in Abuja to stay the execution of its January 19, 2020 judgment on former Benue State Governor Gabriel Suswam.
The verdict directed the return of the case file in the ex-governor’s trial and his ex-Finance Commissioner Omadachi Oklobia to Justice Ahmed Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja, who voluntarily withdrew from the case.
The request is contained in a motion on notice filed by the prosecution, in which Suswam (a serving senator) and Oklobia are accused of diverting N3.1 billion, part of the proceeds of the sale of Benue State’s investments.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) filed the suit against the ex-governor.
In the application filed by the prosecuting team, led by Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), the prosecution prayed the appellate court for an order retraining the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court from transferring the case to Justice Mohammed, pending the determination of its appeal against the February 19, 2020 judgment.
Justice Mohammed, before whom the trial started in 2015, voluntarily withdrew from the case last year after the prosecution had called four witnesses.
The judge cited publications in Sahara Reporters, alleging that he had been compromised by the defence.
Following Justice Mohamed’s withdrawal, the court’s Chief Judge reassigned the matter to another judge, Justice Okon Abang, a decision Suswam objected to and challenged at the Court of Appeal, Abuja.
It was on that basis the February 19 verdict was delivered.
The prosecution, in the application, argued that it would amount to seeking to compel the judge, who voluntarily withdrew from the matter, to continue to hear what the Court of Appeal had found he was reluctant to hear in the first place.
It argued that it was unfair to parties to return the case to the old judge when the Court of Appeal, in its verdict, found that Justice Abang had shown great diligence in his handling of the matter.
The prosecution said the Court of Appeal, in its judgment, held that “it is in the best interest of both the defendants and the prosecution in a criminal case for the case to be heard expeditiously and within a reasonable time”.
It added: “That the circumstances leading to the appeal before it does not fall within the purview of Section 98 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, which deals with transfer of criminal cases from one judge to the other.
“That this Honourable Court only ordered the return of the case file …to A. R. Mohammed, J. because four witnesses had already been called before A. R, Mohammed, J.’
“The first respondent/applicant has appealed against the decision of this Honourable Court, dated February 19, 2020, …by filing a notice of appeal dated and filed on the 21st day of February, 2020. The notice of appeal contains arguable grounds of appeal…”
In its five-ground notice of appeal, the prosecution faulted the February 19 judgment of the Court of Appeal and prayed the Supreme Court to set it aside and allow the proceedings before Justice Abang in the matter.