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Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court, Abuja, has lambasted the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for what he termed gross misconduct in the prosecution of the alleged N3.1 billion corruption case by the anti-graft agency.
The judge, who accused the EFCC of frustrating proceedings in the trial and attempting to take over control of court, withdrew from the case and returned the file to the Chief Judge of the Court, Justice Abdul Adamu Kafarati, for re-assignment to another court.
The trial involving a serving colonel in the Nigerian Army, Nicholas Ashinze, and five others, ran into hitches during the cross-examination of an EFCC operative, Mr. Hassan Sheidu.
Counsel to the Army officer, Mr. Ernest Nwoye, had asked the EFCC operative, who conducted investigation into the case, to confirm to the court if the name of Ashinze appeared in any of the transactions relating to the N3.1 billion water project contract, which he answered negatively.
Nwoye also asked the EFCC witness to confirm to the court whether the contract was initiated by the office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA)where the Army officer served or the Federal Ministry of Water Resources. He answered in favour of the latter.
Trouble began when another question on whether the ONSA was responsible for payment of the contract sum and whether the office of Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which effected payment, ever declared the water contract illegal or fraudulent, and he answered in the negative.
Nwoye then asked the EFCC witness to tell the court why the name of Asinze was put on the charge sheet.
Counsel to the EFCC, Mr. Ofem Uket, became uncomfortable with the cross-examination and began interjecting in the proceedings persistently. Efforts by the judge and other lawyers that the cross-examination be allowed unhindered were rebuffed as the counsel objected to virtually all the questions put to his witness.
In the face-off that ensued, Justice Kolawole attempted to call EFCC to order but his efforts yielded no fruitful result, while other lawyers expressed bitterness on the issue.
The interjection got to a climax when the counsel openly challenged the court records, which were severally read out to him by the judge to assuage his feelings.
When all efforts to call the counsel to order to stop the interjection were rebuffed, Justice Kolawole urged the counsel to conduct himself in a manner expected of a legal practitioner, which still yet yielded no fruitful result.
At a point, the judge said he could no longer condone the conduct of the EFCC in the trial and announced his withdrawal from the case.
Justice Kolawole accused the anti-graft agency of frustrating his court and desperately seeking to take over control of the court from him against the normal practice.
He said that it was the duty of the court to allow a witness in a criminal trial to be cross-examined with questions contemplated by law, adding that the display of apprehension by the EFCC was unjust and un-called for.
The judge, while lambasting the EFCC for taking the court, laws and the best practice for granted, counseled the commission to always put its house in order before rushing to court for trial, adding that justice was not for a particular side.
He, therefore, opted out of the case and returned the file to the Chief Judge for re-assignment to another judge.
Other defendants in the case are Sadiq Mohammed, a foreigner, A.C. Wolfang, and a lawyer, Mr. Edidion Edidion.