The trial of former domestic aide to ex-President Good luck Jonathan, Waripamo-Owei-Dudafa, took a different turn Thursday when the defence counsel asked the Judge to recuse himself from the corruption trial.
Waripamo-Owei is standing trial on an alleged N1.6bm fraud involving the office of the National Security Agency and the Central Bank of Nigeria.
The Judge, Justice Mohammed Idris, was promoted to the Court of Appeal but was granted special status to conclude all the cases he was handling at the Federal High Court while simultaneously resuming duty at the appellate court.
Gboyega Oyewole, the counsel of Warimo-Owei, on Thursday told Justice Idris to step down from the case, arguing that an amended charge according to the law should be treated as a fresh charge.
“Your Lordship’s jurisdiction is a very special one now and is only limited to concluding a part-heard matter. Immediately a charge is amended, the defendant is at liberty to call all witness called by the prosecution for further cross examination. Is Your Lordship clothed with such jurisdiction?” he asked.
“Your Lordship is to conclude a part-heard matter only, within a reasonable amount of time. They waited until our written address is seen and must have seen that there is no way the charge can be sustained, they now want to steal a match on the defendant by amending the charge. We urge Your Lordship to strike out the amended charge.”
Similarly, Ige Asemudara, the counsel to the second defendant, Joseph Iwejuo, asked the court to decline further jurisdiction all together in the matter.
“We urge this court to decline jurisdiction to continue to entertain this charge as constituted and as amended as it constitutes fresh arraignment. Our submission is simply that the court lacks jurisdiction to continue especially with the amended charge.
“With the amendment, we have a duty to recall our witness because fresh allegations of forgery have been levelled against the second defendant, which means the case of the prosecution cannot be said to have been closed and it means Your Lordship cannot be said to still have jurisdiction over the matter. No matter how we look at this case as constituted, Your Lordship has lost jurisdiction and is urged to decline jurisdiction. ”
Responding, the counsel representing the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC), Rotimi Oyedepo, told the court that the prosecution intends to amend the charges in line with evidences already presented in court and that the case was not starting anew.
“Before the filing of the final written address, the prosecution had informed the defendants in open court that it intends to amend its charge in line with evidence given and we have informed the court that the case will not start ‘de novo’ because we will not call another witness,” he said.
“On the issue of prejudice, we are only amending our charge along the line of evidence already presented. We are not saying anything new. Under the law, My Lord has the power to convict a defendant on an evidence proved before it even if it’s not charged. Since the amendment is only in line with evidence already adduced before this court, I urge My Lord to allow the amendment.”
The Judge adjourned the matter to November 15 for ruling on the amended charge.
He said: “I had read all arguments from all parties and I had been prepared to issue a bench ruling but having listened orally to all arguments, I would like to go back and assess what I felt I had read.
“I am very careful and would not want to take anything for granted. I would prefer to err on the side of caution. The case is adjourned to 15th of November for ruling on the amended charge.”