The Federal High Court in Lagos, Wednesday, refused Akwa Ibom State Governor, Udom Emmanuel’s application for an indefinite adjournment of the trial of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) President, Paul Usoro (SAN) for money laundering.
Emmanuel’s lawyer, Mr Ogbonaya Nwakwo, had urged Justice Rilwan Aikawa to adjourn the trial sine die (indefinitely) to allow the Court of Appeal determine his appeal against the court’s May 30 ruling.
The court on May 30 dismissed the governor’s prayer to decline jurisdiction to entertain the charge because the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had no locus standi to file it.
Emmanuel argued that EFCC was wrong to name him in the charge since he enjoys immunity as enshrined in Section 308 of the 1999 Constitution.
Aside Emmanuel, Akwa Ibom Commissioner for Finance, Nsikan Nkan, Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Uwemedimo Nwoko, Accountant-General, Mfon Udomah and an account officer, Margaret Thompson Ukpe are also named in the charge.
EFCC accused them of laundering N1.4 billion state funds through Usoro.
Dismissing Emmanuel’s objection on May 30, Justice Aikawa held: “Including the governor’s name in counts 1-4 does not make him a defendant. The mere mention of his name is not enough to make the applicant (Emmanuel) a defendant in this trial.”
Dissatisfied, Emmanuel appealed the ruling and prayed Justice Aikawa to suspend trial until the appeal is determined.
But, prosecuting counsel Rotimi Oyedepo argued that adjourning the case sine dine was tantamount to stay of proceedings which is prohibited by Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), Section 40 of the EFCC Act and a Supreme Court verdict.
Ruling, Justice Aikawa agreed that since Emmanuel was not a party to the charge, he could not ask for an adjournment.
After the ruling, EFCC called its first witness, Udom Idongesit, a Zenith Bank Relationship Manager at the Aka Road, Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, branch.
Led in evidence by Oyedepo, the witness told the court that sometime in March 2016, she went to the Akwa Ibom State Government House in Uyo for marketing, during which she overheard a conversation between Emmanuel and the Accountant-General on the need to pay Usoro some money.
“This payment, I got to understand, should have gone to Access Bank. I took that as information for myself because the business I do basically thrives on information.
“I got back to my office and checked through the system to see if the defendant (Usoro) had an account with Zenith Bank and I found no such account existed,” Idongesit said.
According to her, through her efforts, her branch was given a withdrawal instrument of N700 million on Akwa Ibom State Accountant-General’s imprest account on March 10, 2016.
The witness said she subsequently got Usoro’s contact from Emmanuel on March 14, 2016.
“I put a call through to him, that I had the payment and he needed to open an account. He instructed me to work with two of his colleagues.
“When I confirmed the exact names registered on the form, I sought the approval of my zonal head to open the account and made the deposit while waiting for documentation.
“I filled the deposit slip and the depositor’s name that I filled was Paul Usoro,” Idongesit said.
The court admitted as exhibits the instructions given to the bank for the withdrawal of N700 million, as well as the documentation for the Zenith Bank account opened for Usoro.
Justice Aikawa adjourned until October 21 for continuation of trial.