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EFCC urges court to speed up Bafarawa's trial

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Farida Waziri
  The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Thursday July 1 st , 2010, reinforced its trial of former governor of Sokoto state, Alhaji Attahiru Bafarawa by urging the High Court, Sokoto to speed up his trial . To achieve this, the Commission  applied for the separate trial of one of the suspects,  Chief Mike Umeh, to enable the trial commence in the interest of fairness and justice to the other 15 accused persons.

The EFCC counsel,  Chief Adeniyi Akintola,  SAN represented by Chief J. E. Ochidi, said that the 17 th accused person,  Chief Mike  Umeh was the only person who has got an order for stay of proceedings at the Court of Appeal, Sokoto Division against his trial.  At the court session presided over by Justice Bello Abass,  the EFCC counsel said that the accused persons  were standing trial for 144 count charges  and only counts 102 and 103 affected  Umeh, and as such his trial should be separated from other accused persons, because the others  had neither filed an appeal nor prayed for stay of proceedings of their trial.

 Ochidi cited the EFCC Act 2004, section 40,  which states that an application of stay of  proceeding  in respect of any criminal matter brought by the Commission before the High Court shall not be entertained until judgment is delivered by the High Court. He further referred the judge to section 25(1) of the Ciminal Procedure Code, CPC, which confers  powers on the High Court to separate joint cases and urged Justice Abass  to avail himself of this power and grant his application for the separation and stay of proceeding of Umeh's case from the other accused persons. He submitted that it is legally and morally wrong against the spirit of justice to continue to delay the commencement of the trial  because of the case of one accused person.

In his response,  the lead  defense counsel,  Chief Lateef  Fagbami SAN,  represented by Suleiman Usman  said that the EFCC counsel erred in law by his application and that he should have sought for an adjournment pending the outcome of the relief sought at the Court of Appeal by Umeh .He drew the attention of the court to the fact that it had obeyed the Court of Appeal and should not commence trial now in disobedience of the order of the appellate court.  He cited the Supreme Court case of Ojukwu and government of Lagos State ,  Volume 1 NWLR 1972, which laid  down the time honored principle that forbids the lower court  to take any legal action that could foist  fait accompli  on a higher court. He consequently prayed the court that the EFCC counsel should formally address the court on the issue and to allow the lead defense counsel to respond to the application made by the EFCC  . He further asked for an adjournment to allow him brief his principal on the surprise development which  the EFCC counsel sprang on the court.

 Justice Abass,  in his ruling,  said that the defense counsel had argued and responded to the application of the EFCC counsel and that the proper thing to do would have been for his court to rule on the application. However, since he had applied for time and adjournment, he would entertain a short adjournment to allow the defense counsel to respond to the application. He therefore adjourned the case to July 12 th ,2010 for ruling on the application for separation and stay of proceedings.

Earlier, Bafarawa  had stirred the court when he lashed out at the Nigerian Television Authority, N TA's cameramen who were video taping his entrance and that of the other accused persons by saying: “we are not criminals yet and don't portray us as one”. The cameramen , in turn, protested that they were merely carrying out their legitimate duty and they should neither be obstructed or intimidated.

The ex-governor, together with 16 other accused persons,  is standing trial of a fraud of over  15billion fraud and  arraigned on a 47 count charge bordering on  breach of trust, misappropriation of public funds and money laundering, among others.

The other 16 accused persons Alhaji Nasiru Dalhatu Bafarawa, Alhaji Isa Sadiq Achida, Hajia Aishatu Binji, Sen. Salihu Bakwai, Alhaji Salihu Maibuhu Gunmi, Adamu Gurori,  Alhaji Adamu Gurori, Alhaji Habibu Halilu Modaci, and Sambo Bello Danchadi. Others are Alhaji Abdullahi Ahmed Bida, Chief Mike Umeh, Alhaji Umaru Kwambo, Shehu Koko, Ubale Yahaya, Alhaji Maigari Dingyadi, and Alhaji Tukur Alkali.