Igbinedion's Trial: Accused Shuns Court……Risks Bench warrant
Chief Lucky Nosakhare Igbinedion, the former governor of Edo State, who was arraigned at the Federal High Court, Benin City by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC over an alleged N25billion scam was absent from the court sitting on Tuesday.
Dependable sources disclosed that Igbinedion, who refused to show up in court, was sighted in the company of friends and aides while paying a condolence visit to the family of late Dr. Abel Guobadia who died last weekend. He later drove away in a black Mercedez Benz 4matic jeep with registration AZ 200 USL.
The court sitting, presided over by Justice Adamu Hobon however adjourned hearing in the suit till March 26, 2011, urging the ex-governor to appear in court on the said date, after counsel to Chief Lucky Nosakhare Igbinedion, Mr. Ricky Tarfa, SAN objected to the prayer of the EFCC counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN that a bench warrant be issued for Igbinedion's arrest. Justice Adamu Hobon noted that it was not proper in law for the accused persons not to be in court while their application is being decided. He ordered that they appeared in court on the 22nd of March when next the case will be heard in court.
According to the judge, 'On the whole, having considered all the circumstances in the charge and the application opposing it coming for the first time for mention and counsel to both sides present in court, I order that the accused persons shall put up appearance at the next sitting and the application in opposition of the charge be heard in time without any further delay, pending which bench warrant will have to be invoked to compel accused appearance,' Justice ordered. Counsel to the prosecution, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) had told the court that the preliminary objection filed by the accused counsel could only be heard in the presence of the accused persons and applied to the court to issue a bench warrant against the accused.
But Counsel to the accused, Rickey Tarfa (SAN) argued that their preliminary objection filed on February 4, 2011 was predicated on the fact that the fresh charges against their client was an abuse of court process since the accused person had earlier been charged. He argued that 'no person should face trial twice for the same offence, since their application is already before the court; they did not need to be present in court. The issues at hand are constitutional and not procedural.
'The presence of the accused in court is not mandatory because the motion in court has been taken. It is after the court dismisses their motion that the accused persons can be made to appear in court, and then they can come forward and take their appeal. They have reported to the authorities.' Meanwhile, shortly after the sitting, at the Federal High Court, Benin, counsel to the EfCC, Rotimi Jacob, said the anti-graft agency has option to have arrested the accused persons and bring them to court, but expressed disappointed at his fellow counsel who had pledged an undertaking to the effect that they were going to bring them to court.
'Some of them were in court and all of a sudden when the matter was called they disappeared into the thin air', he alleged. He further said, 'His lordship has the option to order them a warrant but the court said they should be present in court. It is not just sufficient to fill a motion; they have to be present before the court. EFCC will not do anything that is against the laws of the land. No accused person will be tried twice for the same offence but the issue is the same offence, offence not similar, offences committed somewhere else. The fact that you are convicted for an offence A does not mean that you cannot go back for offence B and C so long as they are different offences'. Also, a member of the defence lawyers, Barrister Richard Oma Ahonaruogho, had assured that their client (Igbinedien) will not run away from justice and wondered why a man who in 2008 faced the same trail, pleaded guilty and was convicted and entered into a plea bargain with the sum of N500 million to the coffers of the government should be made to face the same charges, which according to him, amounts to double jeopardy.
'What else do they want from Lucky Igbinedion, we are saying enough is enough, he cannot continue to be castigated for his political belief and that is why he is in the court, we will never run away from trial'. At the court premises, a crowd, allegedly said to have been hired by Igbinedion's loyalists displayed placards with various inscriptions, 'Temper Justice with Mercy', 'Double Trial is Injustice', 'After Enugu, Let Lucky Igbinedion Have his Peace', 'Stop this Manhunt' to protesting against the continued trail of the former governor.