Ade Adesomoju, Abuja
Justice Jude Okeke of a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, in Maitama, on Monday, threatened to strike out the charges preferred against a judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Adeniyi Ademola, and others, if the prosecution failed again to present its next witnesses at subsequent court sittings.
The Federal Government is prosecuting Justice Ademola, his wife, Olabowale, and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Joe Agi, on charges bordering on giving and receiving of gratification and alleged illegal possession of firearms found with the judge.
The prosecution led by Mr. Segun Jegede had called five witnesses, but was unable to continue its case by calling its sixth witness as scheduled on Monday.
Jegede had told Justice Okeke that he was unable to proceed because of the absence of his next prosecution witness whom he said had been taken into hiding after escaping an assassination attempt at about 2am on Monday.
“This is not the first time. We now have a situation whereby prosecution witnesses are now systematically threatened,” Jegede said.
He said this shortly after the judge delivered a ruling on Monday, allowing the prosecution to amend its proof of evidence by filing a summary of the evidence to be given by an employee of the Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, Mr. Malik Olatunde.
Jegede, was to immediately, after the ruling, call another witness but he sought an adjournment to enable him to comply with the court’s ruling.
He also sought an adjournment to enable him to make an arrangement to bring to court his witness, a former Director, Pension Accounts Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation, Dr. Shaibu Teidi, whose life he said was threatened earlier on Monday.
But the defence team, comprising, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), Chief Robert Clarke (SAN), and Mr. Jeph Njikonye, opposed the application for an adjournment on the basis that it was baseless and that it showed that the prosecution was not ready to go on with the case.
They urged the court to compel the prosecution to call its other proposed witnesses, failing which the charges preferred against the accused persons should be dismissed.
In his ruling, Justice Okeke frowned on the prosecution for allegedly “scuttling” the purpose of adjourning 11 other cases that would have competed with the trial for hearing on Monday to other dates.
“The prosecution made the court to act in vain,” Justice Okeke noted.
He agreed with the defence lawyers to the effect that the prosecution had the opportunity of calling at least four of its other proposed witnesses but failed to.
The judge also observed that despite the fact that the court had granted an accelerated hearing of the case without any objection, the Monday’s sitting made the third time, out of the five times a party to a criminal trial was allowed, that the prosecution would be asking for an adjournment.
He however said the court would indulge the prosecution “one more time.”
Justice Okeke also said “the prosecution is warned” to proceed with its case, failing which “the court will be constrained to do the needful.”
Meanwhile, Justice Okeke on Monday, ordered the Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Mohammed Idris, to provide protection for all prosecution witnesses as well as defence witnesses and the defendants in the case “if need be.”
This followed the report to the judge by Jegede on Monday that prosecution witnesses were being “systematically threatened.”
He began by saying that there was now an “unfortunate and dangerous dimension” introduced to the case.
Jegede said at about 2am on Monday, about eight armed men scaled the fence to Teidi’s house in Abuja and made an attempt to kill the man, who is listed as a prosecution witness in the case.
Teidi had been listed to testify on an allegation that Justice Ademola had demanded a bribe from him as a condition for getting bail while standing trial before the judge in 2013.
Jegede said, “A call was made to the police station that some men, about eight of them, armed, had scaled the fence of his residence, and entered his home, where they met the children and in a nutshell they said it was their father they wanted, meaning him, Dr. Teidi.”
He said Teidi managed to escape and called a friend who reported the case to the Commissioner of Police of the Federal Capital Territory.
The prosecutor said, “As we speak, the police have taken him back to where he is in hiding.”
Jegede was however cut short by Justice Ademola’s lawyer (Ikpeazu), as he was about to start reporting another incident whereby Teidi had told him three days ago that he received a call from someone, who was allegedly trying to “broker a talk” between him and Justice Ademola.
Ikpeazu had said such case should never be allowed to be discussed in the open court without first bringing it to the attention of the lawyers on the opposing side or the judge privately.
But Jegede, who later continued making case for his application for adjournment, had said there was no law barring him from making such disclosure in the open court, especially because the Monday’s sitting was the first after the alleged assassination attempt on Teidi’s life was made.
Justice Okeke, ruling on Jegede’s application for adjournment, overruled request to adjourn till Wednesday and chose to adjourn till Tuesday.