A Plateau State High Court presided over by Justice Christy Dabup on Thursday declined to grant an application seeking to return the case file of a former governor of Plateau State, Jonah Jang, to the state chief judge for reassignment to a new judge.
Jang is standing trial alongside Yusuf Pam, an ex-cashier in the Office of the Secretary to the Plateau State Government on alleged N6.3bn fraud charges brought before the court by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission
The anti-graft agency first arraigned the duo in March 2018 before Justice Daniel Longji on 17 counts bordering on criminal breach of trust and misappropriation of public money.
When Justice Longji retired in December 2019, after hearing the matter for 34 times, the state chief judge, Justice Yakubu Dakwak, reassigned the case to Justice Dabup, who started hearing on the matter afresh.
Since the re-arraignment of the former governor, the court had not made any meaningful progress occasioned mostly by the absence of the prosecution until Thursday when the EFCC counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, sought the order of the court for a new judge to take over the case.
In moving the application for the reassignment of the case,the EFCC counsel told the court that the lockdown occasioned by COVID-19, as well as the national strike by judiciary workers had prevented the case from being heard expeditiously, adding that current trial judge might not be able to conclude the case before her retirement.
Jacobs added, “We have not gone far with the case as we still have about nine witnesses to present.
“The time is not so much on the side of the trial judge. The case may suffer the same fate due to time limit.
“It will be difficult for us to start recalling the witnesses for the third time.”
But counsel for Jang, Edward Pwajok, SAN, opposed the EFCC application, arguing that the anti-graft agency was only a party to the case and could not determine how the court managed its affairs.
Counsel for the second defendant, S.O. Oyewale, urged the court to continue with the case or strike it out for lack of diligent prosecution.
Justice Dabup ordered the EFCC to go ahead with the presentation of witnesses to enable the court to make progress in the case.
Earlier, two witnesses who were recalled by the EFCC, Emmanuel Kpanja and T Yakubu, both bankers with the Zenith Bank, had narrated how billions of naira were withdrawn towards the end of the tenure of the former governor but maintained that no money was transferred into his personal account.
A former permanent secretary, Habila Dung, also testified but could not be cross examined by the defense counsel.
Justice Dabup adjourned the case till Friday (today).
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