… Fresh petition stalls arraignment

 

Abiodun OBA

 

Former Minister of Aviation, now a Senator representing Anambra North Senatorial District, Stella Oduah, arrived at the court  around 8 am on Monday for her trial.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC)  is  arraigning her on a 25-count charge, alongside four others.

EFCC is accusing her of misappropriating N7.9B public funds while serving as a minister under former President Goodluck Jonathan’s regime.

Other defendants are Gloria Odita, Nwosu Emmanuel Nnamdi, Chukwuma Irene Chinyere, Global Offshore, and Marine Limited, Tip Top Global Resources Limited, Crystal Television Limited, Sobora International Limited, and a foreign construction company.

Before today’s trial, Oduah had failed to appear before the court five times.

During the last sitting on July 12, Justice Inyang Eden Ekwo threatened to issue a warrant of arrest if the former minister failed to appear on her next trial date.

The sitting was later postponed till today after the court couldn’t sit on Oct. 19 due to a public holiday for Eid-el Maulud.

However, the arraignment was stalled in Abuja for the sixth consecutive time by a petition written against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) by co-defendants to Mrs. Oduah in the criminal charges.

Shortly after Mrs. Oduah and three others were called into the dock to take their plea, counsel to seventh and eighth defendants, Ogwu James Onoja SAN, objected to the arraignment on the ground that his clients are being persecuted by the EFCC.

The senior lawyer insisted that the aggrieved defendants had petitioned the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, SAN, seeking a review of the charges against them.

Ogwu informed Ekwo that the AGF, upon receipt of the petition, wrote the Executive Chairman of the EFCC to remit the case file to his office for a review adding that in flagrant disregard to the AGF letter, the anti-graft commission had bluntly refused to remit the case file.

Ogwu tendered a certified true copy of the AGF letter and received by the EFCC, urging the court not to go ahead with the arraignment until the petition has been resolved.

However, counsel to EFCC, Mr. Ofem Uket, denied knowing anything about the AGF letter adding that as an employee of the EFCC, he was just sighting the letter for the first time in court.

The counsel urged the court to disregard the issue raised by the defendants and proceed to arraign them.

Uket said that the AGF would have come to the court if he had any opposition to the arraignment.

However, Justice Ekwo said that since the petition was raised as both a statutory and constitutional matter by the defendants, he would not proceed.

The judge then ordered that counsel in the matter file written addresses for and against the issue raised in the open court and exchange same on the competence of the charges.

Justice Ekwo fixed February 10, 2022, for the adoption of the written addresses and also ordered that Mrs. Oduah and other defendants should continue to enjoy the bail earlier granted them.

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