The trial of a former governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, is to be concluded before the end of September this year.
This was the directive given by the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa.
The trial judge, Justice Mohammed Idris, who is among 12 High Court Judges recently elevated to the Court of Appeal, disclosed this on Monday at the resumed proceedings of the case at the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos.
Though the court is on vacation till September, with only designated vacation judges sitting, Justice Idris has stayed back to hear Orji Kalu’s case, with a view to meeting the directive and concluding the case before September when he would take on cases at the Court of Appeal – his new duty post.
The former governor’s lawyer, Awa Kalu, had written to the President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Bulkachuwa, to release Justice Idris to enable him conclude hearing in the case, which is already at an advanced stage.
The defence counsel made the request pursuant to Section 396 subsection 7 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, which allows a high court judge elevated to the Court of Appeal to conclude all partly-heard cases in his docket pending at the high court.
At the proceedings on Monday, the prosecuting counsel for the Federal Government, Rotimi Jacobs, and other defence counsel, Kelvin Nwofor and Solo Akuma, gave their consent for Justice Idris to conclude the case despite his elevation to the Court of Appeal.
The court had however adjourned till July 17 to give a ruling on whether the Prosecution can amend its charges and re-arraign the defendants after closing its case against them.
Orji Uzor Kalu, who was Abia State governor between 1999 and 2007, is being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for allegedly diverting about N3billion from the state’s treasury.
He was charged alongside his company, Slok Nigeria Limited, and Ude Udeogu, who served under him as the Director of Finance and Account, Abia State Government House.
The defendants have, however, pleaded not guilty to the 34 charges made against them.
The prosecution had on May 11, 2018 closed its case, while the defence counsel hinted that they would file ‘no-case submissions’ in response to the charges.
The defendants claim that the charges as laid out disclose no offence for which they are required to put in a defence.
Shortly after this, the prosecutor, Jacobs, later sought to amend the charges and re-arraign the defendants, a move that the defence team resisted.
The defence team contend that the prosecution could not amend the charges without first obtaining the leave of the court to do so.
Justice Idris has fixed his ruling on this issue for Tuesday, July 17.