*Court rejects key witness.
From Kayode Lawal Abuja.
The Economic and Findermental Crimes Commission EFCC has suffered yet another setback in the trial of former Secretary to the Government of the Federation SGF Dr Babachir Lawal in an alleged N544M contract fraud as an Abuja high court rejected one of its witnesses in the matter.
Justice Jude Okeke of the Federal Capital Territory FCT high court on Monday rejected the bid by the anti graft agency to present a witness from Eco Bank, Mr Chidi Eboigbe to testify in the alleged contract fraud case it brought against Babachir Lawal and six others.
The former SGF, his brother, Hamidu David Lawal, who is a director of Rholavision Engineering Limited; an employee of the company, Sulaiman Abubakar and the Managing Director of Josmon Technologies Limited, Apeh John Monday, are being prosecuted by EFCC before Justice Okeke.
They are put on trial on a 10-count charge bordering on conspiracy and fraud which they all denied.
Delivering ruling on the objection raised against the Compliance Officer from Eco Mr Chidi Eboigbe, to testify in the case, Justice Okeke upheld the objection of Babachir Lawal and other defendants in the matter on point of law.
The Judge held that section 379 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) was grossly violated by EFCC by its failure to list the witness as required by law.
According to the Judge, section 379 of ACJA law stipulates that the prosecution shall include a list of witnesses and summary of the witness’s evidence in the proof of evidence which would be made available to the defence.
In the instant case, Justice Okeke held that Eboigbe sought by EFCC to be used as its witness was not listed in the list of witnesses it filed before the court but only listed a representative of Eco Bank contrary to the expressed provision of the law.
The judge held that EFCC ought to have stated clearly the name of the witness from the bank, adding that the person whose summary of his evidence was in the proof of evidence was Obadina Abiola and not Chidi Eboigbe.
Justice Okeke held that allowing the witness to testify would amount to the court itself violating the provision of Section 379 (1a) of ACJA the way EFCC did.
He however said that EFCC was not totally foreclosed from calling Eboigbe to testify in the case adding that the prosecution could come up with an additional proof of evidence at anytime before judgment in line with Section 379 (1a) of ACJA.
Following the ruling, EFCC lawyer, Mr Offem Uket informed the court that though he was in court with another witness, he would rather apply for an adjournment to enable him “have a reset of proof of evidence”.
According to him, there were investigation officers who were listed as witnesses but the summaries of their evidences were not in the proof of evidence as required by law.
“In view of the far-reaching ruling of this court, it is better that the prosecution file additional proof of evidence,” Uket said.
However, counsel to Babachir Lawal, Chief Akin Olujinmi SAN, faulted the application for adjournment by EFCC claiming that it ought to put its house in order at all times.
According to him, “It is quite clear that the prosecution is taking the law and defence for granted the way it is taking proceedings in this case.”
The senior advocate stated that the prosecution had exhausted its right of adjournmens, acknowledging, however, that the court was vested with the discretion to permit any party further adjournment beyond its statutory right.
Olujinmi then stated that if the court was disposed to granting the application for adjournment, it should make it the last for the prosecution.
Counsel to the second defendant, Mr Sunday Ibrahim Ameh SAN, aligned himself with Olujinmi’s submission, adding that adjournment ought to be merited.
According to him, incessant adjournments would defeat the purpose and intendment of the ACJA.
Counsel to other defendants also aligned themselves with the senior advocates’ and urged the court to discourage frivolous adjournment.
Responding, EFCC lawyer said he appreciated the pains being borne by the defence in view of his application for adjournment.
He stated that he came prepared with a witness but did not want the same argument on the witness in view of the court’s earlier ruling.
He however assured that before the next adjourned date, the prosecution would have done everything possible to have the proof of evidence tidy up, assuring that the prosecution is ready to assist the court to expeditiously try the case.
Justice Okeke granted the application for adjournment adding that adjournment is at the discretion of the court and that the reason advanced for the adjournment was cogent.
He then adjourned till September 14 and 16 for continuation of trial.