A Federal High Court judge sitting in Lagos has excused himself from handling the N1.4bn money laundering charge preferred against the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Mr. Paul Usoro.
At the resumption of proceedings on Thursday, Justice Chuka Obiozor said, ” For personal reasons, I hereby disqualify myself from handling the case, I hereby return this case file back to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for reassignment to another judge.”
The NBA President was scheduled to be re-arraigned before Justice Obiozor on Thursday after the case was re-assigned to the judge in January.
This followed a request by the NBA President granted by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Adamu Abdu-Kafarati, for a change of judge.
On December 18, 2018, a former President of the Bar and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Wole Olanipekun, who led Mr Usoro’s defence team had drawn the court’s attention to a letter written by his client to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, seeking the transfer of the case from Justice Muslim Hassan, to another judge in Lagos or to any judicial division between Uyo and Abuja.
The NBA President is being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on 10 counts bordering on fraud.
He was alleged to have conspired with some others to convert the sum of N1.4 billion, property of Akwa Ibom State Government, which sum they reasonably ought to have known formed part of the proceeds of unlawful activity.
The offence was allegedly committed in May 2016.
The commission also alleged that Usoro conspired with others, to commit the offence within the jurisdiction of the court.
Also named in the charge is the incumbent governor of Akwa Ibom, Mr. Emmanuel Udom, who is described in the charge as being “currently constitutionally immune from prosecution”.
Others charged are the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Finance, Nsikan Nkan; Accountant-General of Akwa Ibom State, Mfon Udomah; the Akwa Ibom State Attorney-General, Uwemedimo Nwoko, and Margaret Ukpe.
The defendants were said to be at large.
Mr. Usoro has, however, pleaded not guilty to the charge. Justice Hassan subsequently admitted him to bail in the sum of N250 million with one surety in like sum.