The Federal High Court in Lagos, on Monday, issued a bench warrant against a former governor of Enugu State, Chimaroke Nnamani, and his ex-aide, Sunday Anyaogu, with whom he was charged with an alleged fraud of N5.3bn.
Justice Chuka Obiozor ordered the arrest of the ex-governor and Anyaogu for failing to appear in court on Monday for their scheduled re-arraignment.
The judge rejected the explanation by Nnamani’s lawyer, Mr. Abubakar Shamsudeen, from the chambers of Mr. Rickey Tarfa (SAN), that his client was at the moment in a hospital in the United States, reportedly recuperating after a heart surgery.
He declined the lawyer’s request for an adjournment till January next year, expressing displeasure with the former governor’s appearance, noting that the case had lasted for 10 years.
The judge stated that the judiciary had always been blamed for the delay in such cases.
Justice Obiozor added, “This matter was slated for re-arraignment today; and I have not found any justification for the absence of the accused persons before this court to take their pleas.
“There must be an end to litigation. The charge before me was filed in 2007 and it is now 10 years.
“In the peculiar circumstances of this case, and particularly in the absence of any convincing explanation on the absence of the defendants before this court today, it is hereby ordered that a bench warrant be issued against the first and second defendants as well as a summon for the sureties to show cause.
“Consequently, this case is adjourned until December 14 for further proceedings.”
When the case was called for hearing on Monday, the prosecuting counsel for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr. Kelvin Uzozie, had noted that the matter was scheduled for the re-arraignment of Nnamani and Anyaogu but explained that they were absent.
He then applied that the judge should issue a bench warrant against them.
“I humbly apply that bench warrants be issued against the first and second defendants and their sureties,” Uzozie pleaded.
But Shamsudeen urged the judge to decline the application for the bench warrants, saying his office had been unable to reach Nnamani in the US or his family since last Thursday that the matter came up afresh in court.
“I was reliably informed that the defendant had a heart surgery last month, and we wanted to get a medical report but unfortunately, we could not,” Shamsudeen added.
He argued that the defendants’ absence in court was not deliberate, stating that they had regularly attended their trial before Justice Mohammed Yunusa, who was handling the case earlier.
But the judge, who noted that the case came up last in 2015, asked the lawyer why Nnamani stopped attending trial even before his heart surgery last month.
Shamsudeen told the judge that some of the companies, charged alongside Nnamani and Anyaogu, had entered into a plea bargain with the Federal Government.
He said though Nnamani and Anyaogu pleaded not guilty, Nnamani had interest in the companies that entered into a plea bargain and forfeited their assets, adding that Nnamani’s ill health was part of the reasons for the plea bargain.
Justice Obiozor however said since Nnamani was being tried in his personal capacity and was not affected by the plea bargain entered into by the companies, there was no justification for his absence in court.
He stated, “A defendant may be guilty or not guilty but the law requires such a defendant to appear and stand his trial, and the sole duty of the court is to do justice.
“You are asking for an adjournment till January when this case has lingered on since 2007 which is almost 10 years.
“Justice, as we all know, is a three-way traffic and once it is lagging, you blame the judiciary.
“This is not a case of more haste and less speed; no, I won’t allow that in my court. This is a 2007 charge and up till now, we are still talking of plea.”
The EFCC lawyer, Uzozie, also countered Shamsudeen, saying the photograph he brought to court, to prove that Nnamani was bedridden in a US hospital, had been in circulation since 2014.