A Federal High Court in Abuja on Wednesday dismissed an objection raised by an ally of Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State, Mr. Abiodun Agbele, against the appearance of a new counsel engaged by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission to prosecute him on money laundering charges.
The EFCC had, on August 3, 2016, arraigned Agbele on 11 counts of money laundering involving N4,685,723,000,000 allegedly transferred from the Office of the National Security Adviser with the Central Bank of Nigeria by Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd).
The prosecution alleged that the accused person knew that the N4,685,723,000,000 formed part of the proceeds of Dasuki’s unlawful activity.
The EFCC alleged that on June 17, 2014, Agbele, along with a former Minister of State for Defence, Musiliu Obanikoro, and other suspects said to be at large, took N1,219,000,000 from N4,685,723,000,000, when they “reasonably ought to have known that the money was part of proceeds of Dasuki’s unlawful activity.”
Justice Nnamdi Dimgba had, on August 4, the day after the arraignment, granted bail to the accused person and fixed Wednesday for the commencement of trial.
But instead of the former prosecuting counsel, Mr. Johnson Ojogbane, appearing to open the prosecution’s case on Wednesday, a new private legal practitioner, Mr. Wahab Shittu, appeared in court to take over the case.
Shittu informed the judge that he had been instructed by the EFCC to take over the prosecution.
He said he had three officials of the Akure Branch of Zenith Bank in court, who were prepared to testify as his first set of prosecution witnesses.
But Agbele’s lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), opposed the appearance of Shittu in the case, insisting that without the new prosecutor filing a motion on notice to indicate the prosecuting agency’s intention to change counsel, Shittu could not conduct the day’s proceedings for the EFCC.
Ozekhome cited some cases already decided by the Supreme Court and provisions of Order 35 (1), (2) and (3) of the Federal High Court Civil Procedure Rules, which he said made it mandatory for a party to a suit, who wished to change counsel, to give notice of such to the court and to the other party.
“And the only way to notify a court is through a motion on notice which must be served on us so that we can object to the appearance of the new lawyer if we consider that it is not proper,” he said.
He also cited Rule 29 (2) of the Professional Conduct for Legal Practitioners 2007, which he argued made provision for counsel to notify both the court and the other party of his or her intention to take over a case from another lawyer.
Shittu asked the court to dismiss the objection, submitting that all the cases cited by Ozekhome to back his argument were civil and not criminal in nature.
Justice Dimgba agreed with Shittu and dismissed Ozekhome’s objection.
He agreed that the cases cited by the defence were civil in nature, adding that since the civil procedure rule cited by Ozekhome was specifically made for civil proceedings, it meant that it excluded criminal proceedings.
Justice Dimgba ordered the defendant to remain in prison until he met his bail conditions.
The judge ordered an accelerated hearing of the case and fixed October 26 and 27 for the commencement of trial.