A welcome relief – The Nation

  • We salute the Supreme Court’s decision against frivolous order of stay of proceedings in criminal trials

Last week’s judgment of the Supreme Court in Olisa Metuh’s case, validating section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015) and section 40 of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (Establishment) Act (2004), both of which prohibit trial and appellate courts from granting order of stay of proceedings in criminal trials, is a welcome development. Perhaps, it is only in Nigeria that criminal trials are obfuscated by irrelevant interlocutory order of stay, and it is our hope that the judgment will bring an end to that perfidy.

But just as we celebrate the Supreme Court’s judgment halting ambush against our criminal justice system, the antics of allowing interminable claim of bias by accused persons, to truncate trials must also stop. To set a standard, the recent decision of the Chief Judge of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Justice Ishaq Bello, to transfer the five-year old trial of the former Chairman of the House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy, Mr. Farouk Lawan, yet again to another judge, should be investigated.

Justice Bello, relying on a petition from Lawan accusing the trial judge of likelihood of bias, transferred the case from Justice Angela Otaluka of the Lugbe Division to Justice Yusuf Halilu of Jabi, even after the prosecution had presented four out of its five witnesses. We support the complaint raised by the private prosecuting counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), to the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), raising queries over the precipitous decision of the chief judge to transfer the case, even when as the learned silk noted, Lawan is “notorious for making undeserved allegation when he feels he is likely to lose”.

With the chief judge’s decision, Lawan’s trial, like in similar cases, will be starting de novo (afresh), for the fourth time. Yet, Lawal is facing a simple allegation of receiving $500,000 out of the $3 million bribe allegedly demanded from Femi Otedola to remove his company’s name from the list of firms indicted by the House committee investigating the abuses of fuel subsidy in 2012. Chief Awomolo complained to the AGF that the chief judge took the decision “without opportunity to us (the prosecution) for comment and without due regard to the long history of the case, the antecedent of the defendant (Lawan) and the damage to the case of the prosecution.”

So, while the erudite decision of the Supreme Court to bring to an end the obnoxious practice of using interlocutory application for order of stay of proceedings to frustrate expeditious trial deserves commendation, the decision of chief judges to allow accused persons to use frivolous claims of bias to frustrate their prosecution deserves the intervention of the apex court and the National Judicial Council (NJC). In terms of abusing court process, Lawan’s case is not different from that of Metuh, who was seeking a stay after accusing the trial judge of bias.

To halt the abuse, we call for concerted effort by stakeholders to bring our criminal justice system to international best practices. The antics of using ridiculous applications and odious interpretation of our constitution and criminal justice laws to ensure that criminal trials last for years ridicules our country.

We commend the panel of justices of the Supreme Court and identify with their finding that: “The appellant/applicant’s (Metuh’s) motion for stay of proceedings is violently in conflict with the provisions of Section 36(4) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended), Section 306 of ACJA and Section 40 of the EFCC (Establishment) Act, 2004, as well as the plethora of case law authorities cited.”

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