By Marie-Therese Nanlong
A Plateau State High Court sitting in Jos has refused to grant an application seeking to return the case file of a former Governor of Plateau state, Jonah Jang, to the State Chief Judge for a reassignment to a new judge.
The Court, presided over by Justice Christine Dabup turned down the request by the Lead Counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN.
It would be recalled that Jang is standing trial alongside Yusuf Pam, a former cashier in the Office of the Secretary to the Plateau State Government on alleged misappropriation of N6.3bn and the EFCC first arraigned the duo on March, 2018 before Justice Daniel Longji.
But Justice Longji retired from service in December, 2019 , after which, the State Chief Judge, Justice Yakubu Dakwak reassigned the case to Justice Dabup who started a fresh hearing on the matter.
On Thursday, when the Lead Prosecution Counsel, Rotimi Jacobs,SAN sought the order of the court for a new Judge to take over the case.
In moving the application for the reassignment of the case, the EFCC counsel told the court that the national lockdown occasioned by COVID-19 as well as the recent national strike by Judiciary workers had prevented the case from being heard expeditiously and argued that given the fresh commencement of the case due to the retirement of the former judge handling the matter there was the need to avoid time wastage, especially as the current trial judge may not be able to conclude the case before her own retirement .
Jacobs said, “We have not gone far with the case as we still have about nine witnesses to present. The time is not so much on the side of the trial judge. The case may suffer the same fate due to time limit. It will be difficult for us to start recalling the witnesses for the third time and that is what I’m trying to avert.
In order to avoid wastage as in the first trial so as to mitigate possible loss to the state and even to the defendant let the matter be transferred to the State Chief Judge for reassignment.”
But Counsel to Jang, Edward Pwajok SAN, opposed the EFCC’s application arguing that the antigraft agency is only a party to the case and therefore cannot determine how the court manages its affairs, insisting that the court would be able to dispose the rest of the case in good time if the EFCC is serious with the prosecution.
He argued, “The request by the prosecution for the reassignment of the case is simply overbearing. The application is entirely speculative and the court cannot act on speculation. He cannot determine for the court. The court knows how to manage its calendar for it’s proceedings and this is determined by criminal justice administration of Plateau state which also prescribes sitting day by day. Besides, the court has already taken four witnesses from the prosecution and only has eight more to present. We are ready for the case and if the prosecution are ready with their witnesses, the case won’t last long to conclude.”
Counsel to Yusuf Pam, the second defendant, S. O. Oyewale also opposed the EFCC’s application and urged the court to continue with the case or strike it out for lack of diligent prosecution.
However, Justice Dabup, in her ruling agreed with the submissions made by the Defense counsels noting that the court has never forestalled proceedings since she took over the case, and since there is no other court designated yet to handle such criminal matters, it will be absurd for her to excuse herself from the case and therefore ordered the EFCC to go ahead with the presentation of more witnesses to enable the court make progress in the case.
Earlier ,two witnesses who were recalled by the EFCC, Emmanuel Kpanja and T Yakubu ,both bankers with the Zenith Bank, had narrated how money running into billions of naira were withdrawn towards the end of the tenure of the former Governor but maintained that no money was transferred into the personal account of the former Governor .
A former Permanent Secretary ,Habila Dung also testified during Thursday hearing of the case but could not be cross examined by the Defense Counsel due to fatigue Justice Dabup adjourned the case till Friday, November, 26 for continuation of hearing.