Justice Adebukola Banjoko of a Federal Capital Territory High Court in Gudu, Abuja, on Tuesday withdrew from the $620,000 bribery charges instituted against a former Chairman, House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy, Mr. Farouk Lawan.
Lawan is being prosecuted along with his secretary in the committee, Boniface Emenalo, by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission.
Justice Banjoko voluntarily withdrew from the case on Tuesday and ordered the case file to be returned to the FCT Chief Judge, Justice Ibrahim Bukar, despite the withdrawal of an application filed by Lawan, in which the lawmaker requested that she quit the case.
The judge said in her ruling that though the application had been withdrawn and the Chief Judge had cleared her of the allegation in Lawan’s petition, it (the allegation) remained a “scandalous challenge” of her integrity.
“In my 17 years on the bench, six years as a magistrate and 11 years as a judge, I have never been confronted with a scandalous challenge of my integrity,” the judge said.
Lawan’s counsel, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), who had filed the application dated October 29, 2014, asking the judge to quit the case, announced the withdrawal of the petition at the Tuesday’s proceedings.
Apart from the application, Lawan had also personally petitioned the FCT Chief Judge, accusing Justice Banjoko of likely bias based on an alleged close relationship between her and the Chairman, Zenon Petroleum and Gas Ltd, Mr. Femi Otedola, a proposed witness and the accuser in the case.
Ozekhome, who on Tuesday denied knowledge of the petition written by Lawan, had filed the application, asking the judge to disqualify herself from further handling the case based on his client’s allegation.
However, Ozekhome made a U-turn on Tuesday as he withdrew his application and pleaded with the judge to overlook the wrong impression, which the application and his client’s petition must have created.
The prosecuting counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), also apologised on behalf of the accused person and urged the judge to continue with the case.
But the judge refused to accede to the request of both parties, even as she denied the allegation that she and her family were close to Otedola.
She said that “justice is rooted in confidence,” adding that she could no longer continue to hear the case since the accused had first exhibited his lack of confidence in her.
“In the prevailing circumstances, I do find it difficult to continue this case. This case is returned to the honourable Chief Judge for re-assignment,” Justice Banjoko ruled.
The case, when re-assigned will be handled by the third judge since it commenced on February 1, 2013, when Lawan and his co-accused were first arraigned on seven counts of bribery.
The accused persons were re-arraigned before Justice Banjoko on June 11, 2014, following the elevation of the initial trial judge, Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi, to the Court of Appeal.
Lawan and Emenalo are being prosecuted by the ICPC for allegedly collecting $620,000 in the course of performing the committee’s duty in 2012.
They were accused of collecting the bribe in April 2012 from Otedola, in order to remove his companies’ names from the list of firms indicted by the committee of abusing the fuel subsidy regime. – Punch.