The Supreme Court did not order the release of Orji Uzor Kalu, former Abia governor, from prison, Prime Newsng understands.
Kalu, the former governor of Abia State from 1999 to 2007 was convicted and jailed 12 years for money laundering by a federal high court in Lagos. His conviction was upheld by the appeal court. However, the seven-man panel of justices at the Supreme court held that the judgment of the trial court is a nullity on grounds that the trial judge, Mohammed Idris lacked the jurisdiction to hear the case, the apex court based its judgement on ground of technicalities.
The EFCC have reacted to this development.
Below is a statement by the EFCC
The attention of the Economic And Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has been drawn to the judgment of the Supreme Court nullifying the trial of a former governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu , his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited and Jones Udeogu, a former Director of Finance and Account of Abia State Government and ordering their fresh trial at the lower court.
The apex court based its verdict on the grounds that Justice Mohammed Idris, who convicted Kalu and others had been elevated to the Court of Appeal before the judgment and returned to the lower court to deliver the judgment which it considered as illegal.
The EFCC considers the judgment of the apex court as quite unfortunate . It is a technical ambush against the trial of the former governor. The Commission is prepared for a fresh and immediate trial of the case because its evidences against Kalu and others are overwhelming. 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.
PRIME NEWSNG FINDINGS
From our finding based on the judgment delivered by the Supreme Court, parties were directed to go back to trial court and the case should be heard de novo against the Appellant (Ude Jones Udeogu) who was the 2nd Defendant.
The appeal at the Supreme Court arose from the ruling of Hon. Justice M. B. Idris on the no case submission and not an appeal touching on the merit of the case against Orji Uzor Kalu.
It must be noted that the Supreme Court never considered the merit of the case and did not, in any way exonerate Orji Uzor Kalu in respect of the allegation of the laundering of over N7.2 Billion belonging to Abia State Government of which he was found guilty by Hon. Justice M. B. Idris.
It is also to be noted that the Supreme Court did not order that Orji Uzor Kalu be released from prison as he was not the Appellant but a Respondent to the Appeal. We are therefore surprised by the press release issued by Orji Uzor Kalu that he had been vindicated and released from prison pursuant to the judgment of the Supreme Court when no order was made in his favour. It is also instructive to note that we have not been able to receive the judgment or the enrol order of the Supreme Court as they are not yet ready.
FACTS OF THE CASE:
1. Sometime in 2007 Orji Uzor Kalu was charged along with his company (Slok Nigeria Limited) and one Mr. Ude Jones Udeogu on account of money laundering offences involving the sum of N7.2 Billion in Charge No: FHC/ABJ/CR/56/2007 at the Federal High Court Abuja.
2. After arraignment in the year 2007, Mr. Orji Uzor Kalu and the other Defendants brought applications praying the court to strike out the charge on the grounds of non-disclosure of prima facie case, the validity of the law under which he was charged and the breach of an ex-parte order of injunction made by the High Court of Abia State prohibiting his trial in any court.
3. The learned trial judge, Honourable Justice Bello, then of the Federal High Court, Abuja considered all the grounds of the objection and held that there was no merit in any of the grounds.
4. Being dissatisfied with the decision of Bello J. of the Federal High Court, all the Defendants appealed to the Court of Appeal and in a considered judgment delivered on 27th April, 2012 now reported as Kalu v. Federal Republic of Nigeria (2014) 1 NWLR (Pt. 1389) 479, Eko JCA (as he then was) who read the lead judgment also agreed with the trial High Court and held that all the grounds of objection relied upon by Orji Uzor Kalu, including that of prima facie case had no merit and that the order granted by the Abia State High Court was nothing but a gagging order.
5. Orji Uzor Kalu and the other Defendants further appealed to the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court in a judgment delivered on 18th March, 2016now reported as Kalu v. Federal Republic of Nigeria(2016) 9 NWLR (Pt. 1516) 1 upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal and further directed that the case should proceed to trial at the Federal High Court.
6. Meanwhile, in the interim, the Supreme Court gave a decision in Roda v. FRN(2015) 10 NWLR (Pt. 1468) 427 (which decision nullified the position in Abiola v. FRN) to the effect that each division the Federal High Court can only exercise jurisdiction in respect of matters that occurred or partly occurred within the division. In line with the decision in Roda v. FRN (supra), the prosecution applied to the Honourable Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to the Lagos division of the Federal High Court where most of the ingredients of the offences occurred.
7. Pursuant to the application of the prosecution, the case was transferred to the Lagos division of the Federal High Court and the Administrative Judge in the Lagos division of the Federal High Court assigned the case to the court then being presided over by Idris, J. (as he then was).
8. Trial commenced immediately before Idris, J. (as he then was) on 13th March, 2017 and after calling a total of 19 witnesses, the prosecution closed its case on 11th May, 2018 and the case was adjourned to 30th May, 2018 for defence.
9. Orji Uzor Kalu and the other Defendants brought no case submission applications on the day they were supposed to open their defence and the applications were adjourned for adoption of written addresses on 27th June, 2018. However, before the 27th day of June, 2018, when the written addresses were to be adopted, Honourable Justice M. B. Idris was elevated to the Court of Appeal.
10. Upon the elevation of Honourable Justice M. B. Idris to the Court of Appeal, Orji Uzor Kalu, through his counsel, by a letter dated 26th June, 2018, applied to the Honourable President of the Court of Appeal requesting that“We are therefore constrained to request that Hon. Justice M.B. Idris JCA, be allowed to conclude the trial of this part-heard corruption trial at the Federal High Court Lagos. Our application is hinged on the provisions of Section 396 (7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015.”
11. Following the application of Orji Uzor Kalu, the President of the Court of Appeal issued a fiat dated 2nd July, 2018 to Honourable Justice M. B. Idris directing his Lordship to conclude the part heard case when it was stated thus: “By virtue of the provisions of Section 396 (7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, you have my fiat/permission to conclude the part-heard criminal matter FHC/ABJ/57/07 between Federal Republic of Nigeria v. Orji Uzor Kalu & 2 Ors. pending before the Federal High Court, Lagos.”
12. Hon. Justice M. B. Idris, pursuant to the fiat of the President of the Court of Appeal resumed jurisdiction to conclude the part-heard case and all counsel consented to the continued trial of the case before Honourable Justice Idris sitting at the Federal High Court for the purpose of the case and other part-heard matters.
13. Written addresses in respect of the no case submission were adopted and the respective no case submission applications were overruled by Hon. Justice M. B. Idris.
14. Respective Defendants appealed to the Court of Appeal against the ruling dismissing the no case submission.
15. It is important to note that it was ONLY the 2nd Defendant (Ude Jones Udeogu) who, despite the consent of parties that Hon. Justice M. B. Idris should conclude the matter, raised the issue regarding the constitutionality of Section 396 (7) of ACJA and the propriety of the fiat issued thereto.
16. The Court of Appeal dismissed the respective appeals and resolved all the issues against the Defendants including the issue of constitutionality of Section 396 (7) of ACJA.
17. Ude Jones Udeogu further appealed to the Supreme Court solely on the issue of the constitutionality of Section 396 (7) of ACJA. It is important to note that only Ude Jones Udeogu appealed to the Supreme Court and Orji Uzor Kalu, his company and the prosecution were all Respondents to the appeal at the Supreme Court.
18. For the avoidance of doubt, in Appeal No: SC. 622C/2019 between Ude Jones Udeogu v. FRN & 2 Ors., the prosecution was the 1st Respondent, Orji Uzor Kalu was the 2nd Respondent while his company, Slok Nigeria Limited was the 3rd Respondent.
19. The Supreme Court, in the judgment delivered today set aside the decision of the Court of Appeal and held that Section 396 (7) of the ACJA is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court further held that neither the ACJA nor the Federal High Court Act gave the authority to the President of the Court of Appeal to issue fiat to Hon. Justice M. B. Idris to conclude his Lordship’s part-heard matters.
20. The Supreme Court further directed that parties should go back to the Federal High Court and the case should be heard de novo against the Appellant (Ude Jones Udeogu) who was the 2nd Defendant.
21. The appeal at the Supreme Court arose from the ruling of Hon. Justice M. B. Idris on the no case submission and not an appeal touching on the merit of the case against Orji Uzor Kalu.
IS THE CORRUPTION FIGHTING BACK?
Ibrahim Magu, the acting chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is arguably the most outstanding head of the EFCC since inception; with his vast knowledge in forensics, his ability to effectively interrogate alleged suspects, his fearless nature and his love and passion to help Nigeria recover looted funds/assets and jail corrupt leaders has yielded enormous results as there is no haven for corrupt public holder again.
Under his watch, ‘sacred cows’ some, who are even members of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) such as Rev Jolly Nyame (former governor of Taraba state) and Chief Joshua Dariye (Plateau) have been successfully tried in the law court and jailed for their corrupt practices while in office.