Justice Rilwan Aikawa of the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos, on Thursday, May 23, 2019 adjourned to May 31, 2019 further hearing in the case involving Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia and Godwin Obla, SAN.
The defendants were re-arraigned on Wednesday, May 15, 2019, on an 18-count charge bordering on breach of trust, false statement and unlawful enrichment.
One of the counts reads: “That you, Hon. Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia and Godwin Obla, SAN, on or about the 21st day of May, 2014 in Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, conspired to indirectly conceal the sum of N5, 000,000.00 (Five Million Naira) in the Diamond Bank account of Nigel & Colive Ltd., which sum you reasonably ought to have known forms part of proceeds of unlawful act to wit: unlawful enrichment.”
Another count reads: “That you, Hon. Justice Rita Ngozi Ofili-Ajumogobia, on or about the 11th day of July, 2014 in Nigeria, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, indirectly concealed the total sum of N12, 000,000.00 (Twelve Million Naira) in the Diamond Bank account of Nigel and Colive Ltd., opened and operated by you, which sum you reasonably ought to have known, forms parts proceeds of unlawful act to wit: criminal breach of trust.”
At the last sitting, counsel to the first defendant, Robert Clarke, SAN, informed the court that he had filed and served on the prosecution an application challenging the jurisdiction of the court to further hear the suit filed against his client by the EFCC.
“My client still remains a judicial officer and is yet to be dismissed as a judge by President Muhammadu Buhari,” he had said.
However, the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, in his response, had told the court that the first defendant is no longer a judicial officer.
Though Oyedepo admitted he was served with the application, he said: “The President of Nigeria, His Excellency, Muhammadu Buhari, signed and dismissed Ofili-Ajumogobia as a judicial officer on November 27, 2018.”
He had further told the court that he would provide the court with the original document that dismissed Ofili-Ajumogobia as a judge.
Consequently, Justice Aikawa held that the prosecution should file a response to the objection raised by the defence and put all necessary documents before the court at the next adjourned date (May 23, 2019) for hearing of preliminary objection.
At today’s sitting, counsel to the first defendant, Clarke, asked for an adjournment to enable him respond to the preliminary objection and counter-affidavit by the prosecution.
Clarke also told the court he would need time to respond and study the new document served by the prosecution, showing that the first defendant was not a serving Judge when the charge was filled, and that she is no longer under the employment of the Federal Government of Nigeria.
”To my understanding, there was no official notification to the removal of the first defendant as a judge; and by Law, she is still a Judge.
“This document has raised a profound legal issue that needs to be looked into, in order to satisfy myself and the Court,” he further submitted.
Counsel to the second defendant, Ferdinand Obi, SAN, did not oppose the application for adjournment, saying that the first defendant’s counsel had the right to respond.
He, however, informed the court of his application, challenging the abuse of court process.
Obi also prayed the court for a separate trial, though he added that the application was not ripe for hearing.
He urged the court, upon hearing the application, to rule on it before the commencement of trial.
In his response, counsel to the prosecution, Oyedepo, opposed to the adjournment being sought by the defence, saying the issue raised by the first defendant counsel bordered on the dismissal of the first defendant.
He added that he had served on the defence a certified true copy of the document by the Nigerian Judicial Council (NJC) stating that Ofili-Ajumogobia had been dismissed from the employment of the Federal Government from November 2018.
He, therefore, argued that “further adjournment only for the hearing of preliminary objections as to the status of the first defendant, which will necessitate suspending commencement of trial, constitutes a violent contravention of Section 396 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, and will exhume the already buried mischief that the ACJA came to amend.”
Responding to the submission of the counsel to the second defendant, Oyedepo said: “The counsel is using this application to slow down the expeditious trial of this case.”
He, therefore, urged the court to invoke the provision for the expeditious hearing of this case as well as the motions brought up.
“The court should consider the ruling alongside the suit and deliver judgment at the end of this case,” he further urged the court.
Justice Aikawa adjourned the case to May 31, 2019 and ordered that the first defendant’s preliminary objection and the second defendant’s motion of notice be taken on the next adjourned date.