A lengthy and heated argument, on Thursday, broke out between the prosecution and defense counsels in the criminal trial of Mr. Femi Fani-Kayode, spokesperson of the presidential campaign organization of former President Goodluck Jonathan, before Justice Idris Hassan at the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos.
The dispute was over whether or not the court has jurisdiction to hear the criminal case between the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Fani-Kayode and two others.
At the resumption of the trial, Mr. Abiodun Jelili Owonikoko (SAN), counsel to Mrs. Nenadi Usman, a former Finance Minister, reminded the court that the case was adjourned for hearing on applications challenging the jurisdiction of the court. He pleaded that the court should entertain the application addressing Mrs. Usman’s health condition.
Justice Hassan, however, refused, stating that applications challenging the jurisdiction of the court must be taken first.
In defense of his application, Mr. Owonikoko then demanded that the case be transferred to Abuja, arguing that the only reason the prosecution was opposed to the transfer of the case is that its collection of evidence is in Lagos, not Abuja, where the alleged crimes were committed.
He added where an offense was committed is important in determining the venue for its trial
"It is totally a different thing how the prosecution decides to investigate the matter or to preserve evidence. It is more ignominious to resist a place an offense is committed because prosecution scattered his own evidence for its administrative convenience," argued Mr. Owonikoko.
He contended that Lagos is not the appropriate division of the Federal High Court to hear the matter because it represents an inconvenience to his client, who has had to spend huge sums of money, including avoidable accommodation costs, traveling from Abuja to Lagos to attend trials.
Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, the prosecuting counsel, opposed the application for transfer, stating that the court is not bound by the convenience of the defendants. Section 386 of Administration of Criminal Justice Acts (ACJA) and section 1-2 of the money laundering Act, said Mr. Oyedepo, empowers the prosecution to file the charge in the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court.
Mr. Norrison Quakers (SAN), counsel to Mr. Fani-Kayode, also expressed doubts about the impartiality of the trial judge. He said his client does not trust the judge to be fair in handling the matter.
“The defendant feels that he will not get justice from the judge that had, at one time, prepared and signed a charge against him," said Mr. Quakers. He urged the judge to excuse himself from Fani-Kayode’s trial. Mr. Oyedepo, however, said the case in which the judge was accused of preparing and signing was in fact prepared and signed by Mr. Festus Keyamo, adding that the judge has been fair to Fani-Kayode, having granted him bail despite EFCC's opposition to such. Mr. Oyedepo further said the judge also condemned and scolded the EFCC when Fani-Kayode was arrested in the court premises.
"Can it be said that the applicant who has enjoyed the discretionary power of the court has been treated unfairly?" asked Mr. Oyedepo.
He argued that it is neither the duty of a defendant nor his counsel to choose the judge that would adjudicate on his matter, but solely that of the Chief Justice of the Federal High Court. He expressed the view that all the applications challenging the jurisdiction of the court are aimed at slowing down the trial.
"This application is intended to whip up emotion before the court or paint the court in a bad light. Sentiments have no place in the conduct of judicial proceedings," argued Mr. Oyedepo.
The matter was adjourned to March 16 for ruling on the applications