Justice Daniel Longji of the Plateau State High Court on Tuesday berated the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over what he described as “laxity in the prosecution of the N6.3 billion case involving the former governor of Plateau State, Jonah Jang.” The judge had on November 18, 2019 fixed December 17, 2019 for hearing and ruling on the “no case submission” filed by the former governor’s counsel, Mike Ozekhome (SAN).
At the resumed hearing of the case in Jos on Tuesday, EFCC lawyer, Mr. H O Ejiga, sought for another adjournment, stating that the anti-graft agency was not ready to proceed with the case. Ejiga blamed the defence counsel for its inability to file the necessary reply accusing him of failing to comply with the 14 days period earlier given by the court to file their no-case submission. He also accused Ozekhome of mischief for serving the no-case submission to the EFCC office in Abuja instead of the office of the lead counsel to the EFCC, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, handling the case, a development which he claimed denied the prosecution the opportunity to file reply within the time frame.
Ejiga said: “My Lord, it is true that the court in its last sitting on 18th November, 2019 adjourned the case to enable parties file the necessary applications. Sadly, the prosecution did not file its reply to the no-case submission because we were disappointed in the style of practice adopted by the defence which we never knew to be the practice. My lord will recall that they requested for 14 days to file during the last sitting which was granted and on the prosecution side, we prayed for 10 days. Even though they filed their application out of time; 16 days instead of the 14 days agreed – two days extra, rather than serving Rotimi Jacobs which is the address on record before the court, the defence elected to serve our clients, the EFCC and denied us the opportunity of being aware as early as possible.
On his part, Ozekhome argued that the reasons adduced by the EFCC not to go ahead with the matter was a ploy aimed at ensuring that the court does not hear the matter anymore having seen the imminent defeat that awaits them. He added that the prosecution was served with the no-case submission on record time and he could not be blamed if it failed to file the appropriate response to enable the court continue with the case. He also insisted that the allegation of mischief by the prosecution was not true, arguing that the EFCC address was the last address used by the prosecution when it filed an amended charge against his client.
Ozekhome said: “The outing by the prosecution is not only professionally unethical but grossly infamous and the type this court should deprecate using the strongest words, and warn that it should never repeat itself again in the anal of the legal practice for using strong and abominable words describing the defence style of practice over their abysmal failure to meet up with the ruling of the court.
“The game plan is that having seen their case crumble before their eyes and having worsened their case through their later day amendment and knowing that my lord’s last day of sitting is 31st day of December, they want to take the cheap and easy way out of imminent defeat by ensuring that the court does not hear this matter. We insist that it is the prosecution style of practice that is mischievous and highly unprofessional. I urge the court to refuse their application on the grounds they have given but on compassionate grounds.
“They claimed we filed out of time. EFCC was served on the 4th of November 2019, but curiously decided to hold it until a day before the hearing. How is that our fault if they cannot file their reply? We must scuttle their game plan. We must finish the case before the judge retires. Again, they lied that we served them at EFCC office instead of the Rotimi Jacobs chambers. The address on the amended charge in the case under consideration is that of the EFCC and not that of Rotimi Jacobs. With that, they have redirected where to serve them which we did correctly. I urge the court to refuse the application on the grounds they have given but on compassionate grounds.”
After listening to the arguments by both counsel, Justice Longji, who agreed with all the submissions of the defence counsel, gave 24 hours to the EFCC to file the necessary reply to the no-case submission to enable the court continue with the matter.
While cautioning the EFCC against lack of diligence in prosecuting the case, the judge who was visibly angry, also ordered the EFCC lawyer to apologise to Ozekhome for wrongfully addressing him in uncouth language and accusing him of mischief in the manner he served the no-case submission to the anti-graft agency. The case was subsequently adjourned to December 23, 2019 for continuation of hearing.