Barring any last minute adjournment, the trial of the Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon. Adeyemi Ikuforiji, for money laundering charges would resume today before Justice Okechukwu Okeke of the Federal High Court.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had charged the Speaker and his aide, Mr. Oyebode Alade Atoyebi, for allegedly accepting about N500 million from the Assembly without passing through a financial institution, an allegation they denied.
Most of the adjournments have been at the instance of the prosecution, leading the defence counsel to ask that the matter be struck out for want of diligent prosecution.
On February 18, the prosecution, led by Godwin Obla, asked Justice Okeke to stand down the matter till 11am “to allow counsel for the prosecution appear in a highly contentious public interest fundamental human right proceeding…” before another judge.
Opposing the application, Ikuforiji’s counsel, Mr. Tayo Oyetibo (SAN), recalled that on October 21, 2012, the court had indicated that it was prepared to hear the matter from day to day.
“The prosecution failed to show up on November 20, 2012. We lost at least 15 days at the instance of the prosecution. I submit that the defence has never asked for an adjournment in this matter,” Oyetibo said.
However, the court adjourned at the instance of the prosecution.
Again on March 25, the prosecution was not in court. Oyetibo complained, and recalled other adjournment requests by the prosecution.
He said: “On November 6, 2012, the prosecution failed to appear in court to continue this case. He (Obla) wrote for an adjournment. The case was adjourned to November 20 and 21, 2012 as requested by the prosecution.
“On November 20, the prosecution failed again to appear in court (stating) that he mixed up the date and my Lord graciously accepted the date. Rather than coming here, he asked for another adjournment and my Lord adjourned till December 17 and 18, 2012.”
Obla said on February 18, the prosecution wrote two letters, one of which was the matter be transferred to another judge as Justice Okeke would soon retire.
The judge, he said, called Obla from another court, and the lawyer said he was not with the Ikuforiji case file and that the prosecution witness was not in court.
The case was again adjourned till February 19 and 20 at the prosecution’s instance.
On February 19, the prosecution asked for yet another adjournment to “to be in Makurdi on the 20th of February.”
All other dates fixed for trial after February 20 were vacated and the case was adjourned again till March 19 and 20. On those days, the court did not sit and the case was adjourned till March 25.
Obla had said in court on March 25: “The first Defendant is the sitting speaker of the House of Lagos State. The case ought to be given accelerated hearing so that the people of Lagos State can know within a reasonable time his guilt or innocence.
“The prosecution is taking steps to frustrate these proceedings because he knows my Lordship will be retiring this year.
“What the charge is saying is that the money did not go through a financial institution and not money laundering or that he stole, and that the accused did not conduct the business of the House in line with Money Laundering Procedure Act.
“Flowing from this, I urge your lordship to either dismiss this charge or close their defence.’
The court did not dismiss the charge as prayed, but adjourned till April 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 22, 23, 25 and 25.
At the last hearing, Obla withdrew from the trial. In his letter dated April 5 to the court’s registrar, he said the manner in which the court fixed dates would deny him the ability to diligently prosecute the case.
Obla, who was not present in court on March 25 when the dates were fixed, said the 13 days was scheduled without considering his commitment in other cases at other courts. “The new dates clearly conflict with those long-scheduled obligations,” he wrote. His withdrawal forced Justice Okeke, who will retire next month, to cancel the dates. Head of EFCC’s Legal Department, Mr. Alli Yusuf, said he was informed late about Obla’s withdrawal and would need three weeks to study the file. Oyetibo complained that the EFCC was handling the case with levity, asking the court to dismiss the charge for lack of diligent prosecution.
“This is a case where the accused person is begging to be prosecuted and the prosecution is running away,” Oyetibo said. Observers wonder if there is not more to the prosecution’s frequent requests for adjournments than meets the eye. Is there a hidden agenda?
Justice Okeke adjourned till tomorrow for trial, but will this be the last adjournment at the prosecution’s instance.