Justice Ridwan Aikawa, the newly assigned judge presiding over the N4.9b fraud charge against former Minister for Aviation Femi Fani-Kayode and two others, ordered the defendants to take their pleas on Monday.
The defense counsel moved to transfer the trial to the Abuja division of the Federal High Court, but the judge ruled that the defendants must make their pleas before the court rules on the defense’s transfer application.
Justice Aikawa was assigned to the trial after Justice Ibrahim Hassan recused himself from the case.
The defense counsel insisted that the application seeking to transfer the case to Abuja, which was filed before the former presiding judge, must be ruled on first. The defense counsel argued that since the Justice Hassan did not decide the application before he returned the case file for reassignment, the application should be taken first before the defendants take their plea.
It would be recalled that Mr. Fani-Kayode urged Justice Muslim Hassan to recuse himself from the case, on the ground that the judge, as an Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) legal officer, had in 2008 signed a criminal charge filed against him. In two separate applications, the others defendants demanded a separate trial and the transfer of their case to Abuja.
The counsel for the EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo, opposed the motion, stating that the application would have to be refiled before the new judge. He added that the application could only be ruled on after the defendants take their pleas.
Having listened to the argument of both sides, the presiding judge asked the court registrar to read the charges to the defendant, to which they pleaded not guilty. They were also allowed to continue on the bail granted by Justice Hassan.
The judge then adjourned the matter to June 7 and 9 for continuation of trial.