Justice Adedayo Akintoye of a Lagos State High Court, Igbosere, has dismissed an application by a serving Federal High Court Judge, Hyeladzira Ajiya Nganjwa, seeking to stay proceedings in his trial for alleged N81,705,000 corrupt practices.
Nganjiwa is facing a $260,000 and N8.65 million totalling about N81,705,000 corruption charge, brought against him last June 23 by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
The trial judge ruled that the application by the defendant, Justice Nganjiwa of the Federal High Court, Bayelsa Division, was unmeritorious.
The judge noted that Nganjiwa’s application seemed like a delay tactic and that his trial could continue while the outcome of his appeal at the appellate court is awaited.
Counsel to Justice Nganjiwa, Chief Robert Clarke SAN, moved a motion urging the court to stay proceedings in his trial pending the Court of Appeal’s determination of his suit challenging the high court’s jurisdiction to try him.
The application dated October 4, 2017, was brought pursuant to Sections 6(6) and 36of the 1999 Constitution (As amended).
“Whatever powers this court possesses is subject to the Constitution. It is an application challenging Your Lordship’s jurisdiction,” Clarke said.
He argued, relying on the Constitution, statutes and case law, that the court was bound to refrain from further action on the case, particularly since, according to him, the appeal was set in motion before the defendant took his not guilty plea.
Continuing in his argument, he said, “as of today, the Court of Appeal is fully seized of this matter. In those days when we were younger; if a lower court disregarded the judgment of a higher court it was called judicial rascality.”
The defence counsel submitted that the application was a Constitutional rather than a frivolous one and the issue involved was “a grey area of the law.”
“We urge Your Lordship to err on the side of caution and, in the interest of justice, grant the application.”
In his reaction, prosecution counsel, Mr. Wahab Shittu, who stood for Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, opposed the application, declaring it a time wasting ploy.
“We are strongly opposing this application based on statutory provisions, particularly Section 273 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL)of Lagos State, Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act(ACJA) and Section 40 of the EFCC Act, all of which prohibit the grant of stay of prosecution.
“The application by the learned silk is incompetent because the law does not allow it. The rationale for this is to forestall delay. Our courts frown at delay tactics by defence counsel. This application is an attempt to stall proceedings by counsel.
“I urge my lord to dismiss the application and order the prosecution to commence its case.”
In his ruling, Justice Akintoye ruled in favour of the prosecution.
The Judge, relying on the ACJA, ACJL and the EFCC Act, said, “This court is not empowered to entertain any stay of proceedings or deferment of proceedings; however it may be described, in criminal matters.
“The judicial system has moved from delay tactics which may be brought to forestall the hearing of a case. As a result, this matter will continue as we await the outcome of the decision of the esteemed Court of Appeal.”
Consequently, Clarke requested for time to study an application for proof of evidence served on the defendant, by the prosecution.
“I’m seeing the processes for the first time in this court. I need time to go through them.”
Following consultation with the parties, the judge agreed to “give the defendant the benefit of the doubt.”
The case was adjourned till November 13.
The EFCC, last June, arraigned Nganjiwa on a 14-count charge of unlawful enrichment and making a false statement to the agency’s officials.
The EFCC said he got the money, “so as to have a significant increase in your assets that you cannot reasonably explain the increase in relation to your lawful income.”
Justice Nganjiwa pleaded not guilty and was granted bail on self recognizance in view of his status as a serving judge.