by OLUGBENGA SOYELE,
Justice Muhammed Idris of the Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday assumed jurisdiction over the trial of an official of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Christian Nwosu, accused of receiving a N30 million bribe from former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke, to manipulate the 2015 general election. It would be recalled that Nwosu had earlier in a plea bargain arrangement between him and the EFCC admitted that he collected the money but he later change his plea after the judge rejected the terms of the agreement.
Based on the development, the anti-graft agency re-arraigned Nwosu alongside another INEC official, Tijani Bashir, on an amended charge by the EFCC. They however pleaded not guilty to the charge.
Following their re-arraignment, the counsel to the EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo, urged the court to transfer the case file to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta, for re-assignment to another judge.
Oyedepo had argued that it is trite in law that a judge who had heard and rejected a plea bargain agreement of a defendant can no longer preside over the matter in the event that the defendant decide to change his plea.
The lawyer also submitted that though the commission has full confidence in the ability of the judge to handle the case, it will be in the interest of justice to allow another judge take over the matter
in line with the provisions of Section 270(15) of the Administrationof Criminal Justice Act (ACJA).
However, in his opposition to the application, Nwosu urged the judge to reject the commission’s request and continue to conduct the trial. Nwosu’s lawyer, Victor Opara, insisted that the court has assumed
jurisdiction in the matter the moment the plea of the accused person was taken based on the amended charge filed against them by the EFCC. He also stressed that transferring the case to another judge will slow down the hand of the clock and that where a plea bargain arrangement is not in compliance with the law, then, nothing of such has happened in the eyes of the law.
In his ruling, Justice Idris assumed jurisdiction to continue the
trial, he held that since the prosecution had amended the charge and the accused had been re-arraigned before him, the court has jurisdiction to entertain the trial. The judge also granted bail to Nwosu in the sum of N10 million withtwo sureties who must have properties within the jurisdiction of the court.
The court has fixed further hearing in the matter for June 26, 28 and 29.