Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos has adjourned further hearing in the case of three officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) to December 4, 2017.
The INEC officials- Christian Nwosu, Yisa Olanrewaju Adedoyin and Tijani Bashir- were re-arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on May 3, 2017 on an amended six-count charge bordering on receiving gratification to the tune of N264,880,000.
At the resumed hearing today, the first defendant, Nwosu, told the court that the three statements he made to the Commission on December 28, 2016 and March 15 and 22, 2017 were offered involuntarily.
Moving a written address dated November 23, 2017 before the court, counsel to Nwosu, Obinna Okereke, said his client was threatened and cajoled to make the statements.
He also stated that “Justice requires that the interest of the accused should be taken into consideration and it does not lie in the power of prosecution to dictate how the trial of defendant should go. The court should ensure that justice is done.
“The prosecution did not allow the defendant to have access to any legal practitioners, when he was writing his confessional statement. The prosecution imposed a counsel on him”.
Counsel to the first defendant also submitted that the prosecution had not discharged the burden of proof beyond reasonable doubt.
However, in his response, the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, urged the court to dismiss the claim by the defense.
Oyedepo, who moved his address orally, said two witnesses had been called since the trial began.
The prosecution counsel, who also urged the court to consider the evidence earlier given by the prosecution witnesses, further submitted that “The defendant was duly cautioned when he was making his statement, and he signed the cautionary word when he was making his statement."
He, therefore, urged the court not to be persuaded by the address given by the defense.
Justice Idris adjourned further hearing till December 4, 2017.
The first defendant, Nwosu, had pleaded guilty to receiving the sum of N30 million (Thirty Million Naira) out of the alleged N23 billion Diezani Allison-Madueke bribe meant to compromise electoral officers before the 2015 general election when they were initially arraigned on April 5, 2017.
Consequently, Justice Idris had found Nwosu guilty and convicted him.
Justice Idris had also ordered forfeiture of all the landed properties acquired by Nwosu with the alleged proceeds of crime, including the sum of N5m (Five Million Naira) found in his bank account.
Though Nwosu later entered into a plea bargain agreement with the EFCC, Justice Idris rejected the terms of agreement on the grounds that Nwosu’s offense was heavier than the plea bargain agreement.
In view of this, Nwosu and other accused persons were re-arraigned on May 3, 2017 on an amended six-count charge by the EFCC.
During the May 3 sitting, Nwosu changed his counsel as well as his plea from ‘guilty’ to ‘not guilty’.
Consequently, the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, had prayed the court to transfer the matter to the Chief Judge for re-assignment on the grounds that Nwosu had earlier pleaded guilty and was convicted.
Oyedepo had argued that in the event of an accused pleading not guilty after initially pleading guilty, the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, states that such a matter should be re-assigned to another judge.
However, counsel to Nwosu, Okereke, had argued that his client pleaded guilty to the initial seven-count charge, while he pleaded not guilty to the amended six-count charge.
After listening to both parties, justice Idris had ruled that he would continue hearing in the matter on the grounds that Nwosu was re-arraigned on a fresh amended six-count charge, which he pleaded not guilty to.