A former Chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Maurice Iwu, has made an application for the transfer of his trial on allegations of fraud.
Iwu, who was arraigned before Justice Nicholas Oweibo of the Federal High Court in Lagos on four counts of concealment, fraud and money laundering to the tune of N1.2 billion, is seeking the transfer of the case to the Abuja division of the court.
The money is said to be part of the N23.29 billion slush fund allegedly shared by former petroleum minister, Diezani Allison-Madueke, to influence the outcome of the 2015 presidential elections.
A Great Agony
At Thursday’s proceedings, counsel to the former INEC boss, Ahmed Raji, told Justice Oweibo that the transfer was necessary so as not to subject the defendant to great hardship.
He explained that Professor Iwu resides in Abuja but always travels to Lagos whenever the case was coming up.
“My Lord, this defendant is over 70 years of age and he always travels down to Lagos whenever the case is coming up; then he books a hotel. It will amount to great agony for him to continue with this trial in Lagos,” said Raji who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
He also submitted that since the transaction which led to the charge was done in Abuja, the case should be heard in the nation’s capital.
But counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes commission (EFCC), Rotimi Oyedepo, asked the court to refuse the application.
Oyedepo based his argument on the fact that all the witnesses listed in the proof of evidence, including the bank officials reside in Lagos and Ibadan.
He also argued that it was the Lagos Zonal office of the EFCC that investigated the case.
The EFCC counsel submitted that the offence for which the defendant was charged touched on the economic well-being of Nigeria, and such offences can be tried anywhere in the country.
He cited the provision of Section 98 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, which states that only the Chief Judge of the Court has the power to transfer any matter.
After listening to both parties, Justice Nicholas Oweibo adjourned the case until March 6 for ruling.
Professor Iwu is facing three counts of fraud and money laundering brought against him by the anti-graft agency.
The EFCC accused him of committing the offences from December 2014 to March 27, 2015.
Following his arraignment, the former INEC boss pleaded not guilty to the charges and was granted bail in the sum of N1 billion.