N38B SCAM: BANKOLE, NAFADA LOSE BID TO HALT TRIAL
The Federal High Court in Abuja yesterday dismissed preliminary objections filed by former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole and his erstwhile deputy, Usman Nafada against their trial. The duo is facing criminal charges brought against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)
Justice Sulaiman Belgore, in his ruling, held that there is sufficient evidence before the court as to compel a trial that must be allowed properly in law to run a full course, and heard on its merit.
The two former legislators of the lower National Assembly had brought three applications before Belgore including an order to quash the 17 charges against them; an order to disqualify the prosecution counsel, Festus Keyamo, from standing as prosecutor and another challenging the jurisdiction of the court to be seized of the matter.
Bankole and his deputy, Nafada are standing trial over allegations of criminal breach of trust, by using the House of Representatives account with the United Bank for Africa Plc to indiscriminately obtain loans amounting to over N38 billion and disbursing same without the approval of the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission (RMAFC).
At the ruling yesterday, the presiding judge, who delivered a bulky 56-page decision posed two questions while dealing with the issue of the prayers of the defence counsel urging the prosecution counsel to disqualify himself. He asked: 'Must a prosecutor eschew no bias in a case he is handling? Can a private practitioner institute a criminal matter in the court?
Justice Belgore pointed out in his decision that he has not seen any court judgment ruling that said a prosecutor can be biased. He said, 'after all, even the defence counsel are also biased as they would naturally want their clients to be freed unconditionally.
'The only caveat in the constitution is that the AGF can take over, either to continue or to discontinue the case. And in this case, the AGF has not said anything close to that', the judge ruled.
On the contention of the accused persons that the matter against them be quashed for lacking prima facie evidence, the judge refused the prayers and said the proof of evidence before the court established that the duo really have a case to answer.
'The course of justice will be better served if the case proceeds to trial as this will afford the accused persons opportunities to defend themselves', the judge said.
Justice Belgore also frowned at the application of the accused persons challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the case. And he held: 'This prayer amuses me. The Speaker never enjoyed immunity when he was Speaker of the House of Representatives. Even now, he enjoys no immunity as a former speaker; so it really amuses me when he talks of lack of jurisdiction of the court to entertain the suit'. Justice Belgore had on July 25 entertained arguments from all the parties in respect of the preliminary objections and the eligibility of Keyamo to prosecute the matter as a private prosecutor. The former Speaker, had through his counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) asked the court to disqualify Keyamo from prosecuting him in the charges preferred against him by the anti-graft agency.