Justice Muhammed Idris of a Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday ruled that the United Bank of Africa (UBA) is competent to testify in the ongoing trial of the former Governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu and two others over N3.2 billion alleged fraud.
The Economic and Financial Crime Commission(EFCC) had charged Kalu, his former commissioner for finance, Mr. Udeh Udeogu and Slok Nigeria Limited. The EFCC had on October 31, 2016 re-arraigned the defendants on 34 counts amended charge and they pleaded not guilty.
At the continuation of trial on Wednesday, the former Abia State Governor had through his lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), challenged the competency of the bank official to testify against him.
The witness, Mrs. Christian Ohiri, is the Umuahia branch manager of UBA.
But Justice Idris, ruled against an objection raised on the competence of the top UBA staff to give evidence in the ongoing trial.
The judge, consequently ordered the EFCC to file all additional Proof-of-Evidence that will include the name of all witnesses and summary of the statement.
“on the competence of the witness, its true that her name is not listed, and not indicated that UBA representative will be called to give evidence.The rule of practice must bring to forth. It is clear that the witness is not listed. I have no doubt that the witness is competent to give evidence in this trial,” Justice Idris ruled.
He however held that “The witness is not properly before this court. The prosecution should comply with the Provision of Section 379(1) of ACJA, it is directed to supply the defence with additional Proof-of-Evidence”. After the ruling, the prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), urged the court to allow him to insert the names of the witness he intend to call in the matter, on the ground that the witness came from Abia State, and that it may not be easy for him to bring her back to Lagos.
“My ability to bring her back is my fear. There is no way the defence will be prejudiced, because we have been using her statement since 2008, so I plea with the court to allow me insert her name in the list,” Jacob added
But,Chief Ozekhome (SAN), lawyer to Kalu, urged the court not to grant the prosecutor’s application, saying that such application is aimed to upturn the ruling of the court.
He urged the court to adjourned the matter so that the prosecution can put its ‘house in order’. Lawyers to second and third defendants, Chief Solo Akumah (SAN), and Chief K. C. Nwofor, aligned themselves with the submission of Ozekhome (SAN). They jointly urged the court to reject the prosecutor’s application.
Responding, the prosecutor, Mr. Jacobs (SAN), said the defence have not been able to tell the court any prejudice they will suffer if his application is granted. But Justice Idris after listening to the parties, restated that Section 379(1)(a) of ACJA is mandatory, because it was introduced through legislation and is meant to protect the right of the litigant, the defendant and the public. Consequently, the judge urged the prosecution to file all additional Proof-of-Evidence and serve same on the defence. He adjourned the matter till April 10, 11, 12 and 13 for continuation of trial.