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Alleged N47 billion fraud: Akingbola’s trial stalled as lawyers file fresh objection

The defendants were first arraigned in 2011.

The trial of the former Chairman of Intercontinental Bank Plc, Erastus Akingbola, was stalled Monday as his lawyers filed fresh objections before the judge.

Mr. Akingbola, who had been convicted by a London court, and Bayo Dada are facing a 22-count charge of conspiracy and stealing N47.1 billion belonging to the now defunct bank.

Intercontinental was eventually absorbed by Access Bank Plc.

The duo were billed for re-arraignment before Justice Babajide Lawal-Akapo, the third judge to handle the trial. However, on Monday, the defendants’ lawyers filed notices of preliminary objection, which the judge said would be consolidated and heard on the same day.

The defendants were first arraigned in 2011 before Justice Habeeb Abiru, who was later elevated to the Court of Appeal one year later. They were then re-arraigned before Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo over the same counts; the judge was later transferred to the Commercial Division of the Ikeja High Court.

On Monday, the defendants’ lawyers challenged the court’s jurisdiction to entertain the case before Mr. Lawal-Akapo because the same proof of evidence had also been charged at the Federal High Court. The lawyers also stated that their clients lodged appeals against the ruling of the Federal High Court, which are pending at the Court of Appeal.

The counsel to Mr. Akingbola, Wole Olanipekun, said that subjecting them to another trial at the state High Court on the same alleged offences that should be tried by the Federal High Court amounts to abuse of court process.

However, the counsel to the EFCC, Emmanuel Ukala, urged the court to keep the applications on hold, saying they should not be allowed to delay the prosecution’s case.

“The rules do not allow for any delay in a criminal trial. Section 260 (2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law (ACJL) makes it clear that an objection shall not be raised before the close of the prosecution’s case,” said Mr. Ukala, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria. “It appears that the motion is premature, especially in view of the new judicial policy that requires that matters are prosecuted within the shortest possible time. The same issues in their objection have been raised in the past. The applications should be held in abeyance until the prosecution closes its case.”

But Mr. Olanipekun said that it was too late for the hearing to be kept in abeyance since the EFCC had already filed a counter-affidavit to their preliminary objection.

“We filed an application challenging the jurisdiction of this court. It is not the same application that was decided. It may appear frivolous to him (Ukala), but we’re relying on Supreme Court judgments that the court must deal with any applications. We have a right to present an application before your lordship. The court does not have the power to put any application in abeyance, especially one challenging the jurisdiction of the court and especially as your Lordship is starting the case de novo,” Mr. Olanipekun, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, added.

In a short ruling, Mr. Lawal-Akapo said Section 260 (2) does not mean that an application challenging the court’s jurisdiction should not be determined first. He explained that he could not put the hearing of the applications on hold, since if he does so, he would still return to hear them later.

The judge adjourned till April 2 for hearing of the two consolidated applications challenging the court’s jurisdiction.

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