A Federal High Court has assigned the retrial of a former governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, and his co-accused for N7.1bn fraud to a judge in its Abuja Division.
Court officials confirmed to our correspondent that Justice Inyang Ekwo to whom the case was newly assigned for retrial in Abuja has fixed February 2 for hearing.
The case which originally started in the Abuja Division in 2007 was transferred to Lagos following the request by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in 2016.
The case had proceeded to trial before Justice Mohammed Idris, who on December 5, 2019, convicted and sentenced Kalu to 12 years imprisonment and his co-defendant, Udeh Udeogu, to 10 years jail term.
But the Supreme Court on May 8, 2020, nullified the trial and the subsequent conviction of the former governor and his co-defendants by the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court.
The apex court in the unanimous judgment of a seven-man panel held that as of the time Justice Idris gave the judgment, he had been elevated to the Court of Appeal bench and was no longer competent to exercise jurisdiction over the case as a judge of the Federal High Court.
The EFCC had originally arraigned Kalu, his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited, and Udeogu, who served under him as the Director of Finance and Account at the Abia State Government House in Umuahia, at the Federal High Court in Abuja in 2007.
But the trial was stalled for years until the Supreme Court, in 2016, affirmed the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court to entertain the case.
On request by the EFCC, the case was transferred to the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court and assigned to Justice Mohammed Idris.
The prosecution alleged among others in the amended 39 counts that Kalu “did procure Slok Nigeria Limited – a company solely owned by you and members of your family – to retain in its account, domiciled with the then Inland Bank Plc, Apapa branch, Lagos, an aggregate sum of N7,197,871,208.7 on your behalf.”
It also alleged that the N7.1bn “formed part of the funds illegally derived from the treasury of the Abia State Government and which was converted into several bank drafts before they were paid into the said company’s account.”
After the EFCC closed the case of the prosecution with 19 witnesses, Kalu and his co-defendants filed no-case submissions.
But before Justice Idris could hear and rule on the no-case submission, he was elevated to the Court of Appeal bench in June 2018.
Kalu’s lawyer, Prof. Awa Kalu (SAN), subsequently activated Section 396(7) of the ACJA and applied to the Court of Appeal’s President, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, to give fiat to Justice Idris to return to the Federal High Court to conclude the case.
On July 31, 2018, the judge dismissed the defendants’ no-case submissions and ordered them to open their defence.
The defendants later challenged the jurisdiction of the judge to hear the case, arguing that he was no longer a judge of the Federal High Court.
They also filed an application seeking a stay of proceedings pending the outcome of their appeals.
Justice Idris dismissed both.
The Court of Appeal in Lagos, on April 24, 2018, dismissed the appeal against Justice Idris’ ruling.
Udeogu further appealed to the Supreme Court, which ordered a retrial by a judge of the Federal High Court.