In a judgment that has a precedent the Supreme Court, yesterday, nullified the Federal High Court judgment that convicted and handed down 12 years jail term on the former governor of Abia State, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu.
The Justice Amina Augie-led seven-man panel of Justices, in a judgment delivered by Justice Ejembi Eko, held that the Federal High Court, Lagos Division, acted without jurisdiction when it convicted Kalu; his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited and former Director of Finance in Abia State, Jones Udeogu.
It further held that the then trial Judge, Justice Mohammed Idris, was no longer a Judge of the Federal High Court as at the time he sat and delivered the judgment that convicted the defendants.
The apex court maintained that Justice Liman, having been elevated to the Court of Appeal before the judgment date, lacked the powers to come back and sit as a High Court Judge, adding that the fiat that was issued to him by the Court of Appeal President, pursuant to Section 396 (7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), was unconstitutional.
Consequently, the court vacated the judgment that had earlier nailed Kalu and his co-defendants and ordered a fresh trial of the case.
Kalu and his co-defendants were sentenced to prison by the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court for allegedly embezzling about N7.1billion belonging to the Abia State government, a ruling that was later upheld by the Court of Appeal, Abuja Division.
But not satisfied with the judgment, Kalu proceeded to the Supreme Court, where he filed an appeal, challenging the decisions of the lower courts.
Explaining that the case has a precedent, Chief Goddy Uwazuruike (SAN) recalled: “This position of law is not new. Justice Nnaemeka Agu, over 30 years ago, read judgment in the morning following his elevation to the Court of Appeal, but the judgment was set aside. The 2014 national conference had recommended what to do in this kind of situation, but the government is not interested in its report. Now, the years that the trial lasted are wasted. This is one of the areas the ordinary man will ponder about.
“The Supreme Court is correct that a Judge who has been elevated cannot preside over a case he was handling before his elevation.”
Reacting to the judgment, Kalu, in a statement in Abuja, yesterday, said his five months in jail has taught him some invaluable lessons and presented him with some new challenges that he would dedicate the rest of his life to pursuing.
The statement read: “Today (yesterday), the Supreme Court gave a judgment in my favour, quashing the conviction, which the lower court had entered against me. By today’s (yesterday’s) judgment, the apex court affirmed my right to a fair hearing and equal protection of the law.
“The past five months have been quite a profound period for me. As challenging as that period has been, it has provided me with an opportunity to learn invaluable lessons about our country, our peoples, our justice system and the true meaning of love for family, our country and humanity.
“I want to use this moment to thank my family, colleagues, friends, supporters, the people of Abia State and all Nigerians for their unflinching and unwavering confidence and trust in me through the very testing period. We all know today that their prayers have not been in vain.
“I also use this opportunity to express my gratitude to the Nigerian Correctional Service (NCS) for the unalloyed professionalism and sincere humanity extended to me by its staff while I was in their custody.
“I must accord a special mention to the Justices of our Supreme Court for their unwavering commitment to the rule of law. We all stand reminded of the consistent and strategic relevance of the Supreme Court in holding this country together, even in moments of great peril.”
He added: “As far back as in the 1971 case of Lakanmi Vs. Attorney General Of The Federation (the Ademola Adetokunbo-led Court), the Supreme Court has severally rescued this country from the precipice.
“Also, throughout the dark era of military rule in Nigeria, the Supreme Court neither wavered nor flinched in its commitment to justice and fairness. And despite some moments of distraction and mass hysteria, the Supreme Court has remained the veritable compass to the highest ideals of justice attainable in this country.
“This long tradition of the court was exemplified in today’s judgment. I was humbled by the court’s boldness and sense of justice as shown in my case.
“Overall, my experience tested and reaffirmed my belief and confidence in our country, Nigeria. My case is a true Nigerian story with a bold MADE-IN-NIGERIA stamp on it. It is a story of initial injustice that was caught and ultimately corrected. It is a story of restoration. It is a story of how wrong was righted and how justice and truth prevailed in the end. It is a story of the power of hope.
“My case should teach us all that even though we may not get things right at the first attempt, with patience and dedication, we shall get them right eventually. That is the lesson of my case and that is the lesson of our country; that with dedication and patience, we shall place Nigeria in its rightful place eventually.
“I would like to let it be known that the events of the past five months gave me an added perspective on matters of justice and injustice in Nigeria. I have come to know that the course of justice will not be complete if it stopped at my case. It must continue until it touches the lives of millions of Nigerians who face injustice anywhere in this world.
“I shall be dedicating my time henceforth to ensuring there will be justice for all Nigerians, whether they are in Sokoto or Akwa Ibom or in Lagos or Maiduguri or Jos or Enugu or wherever they may be. Justice for one man or for a few people will no longer be enough in this country.
“A system whereby over 70 per cent of all prison inmates population is made up of people awaiting trial cannot be allowed to continue. Situations, where innocent people are falsely charged with murder just to get them out of the way, do not dignify our country and cannot continue. Justice must now mean justice for all. That is my pledge to Nigerians.
“I look forward to rejoining my colleagues in the Senate as soon as possible.”
But in its reaction, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Kalu’s prosecutor, described the decision of the apex court to nullify the trial of the former governor, his firm and Udeogu and ordering their fresh trial at the lower court as unfortunate.
EFCC spokesperson, Dele Oyewale, who stated this in a statement in Abuja, maintained that the decision was a technical ambush against Kalu’s trial.
Oyewale disclosed that the Commission was prepared for a fresh and immediate trial of the case, saying its evidence against them are overwhelming.
He added: “The corruption charges against Kalu still subsist because the Supreme Court did not acquit him of them. The entire prosecutorial machinery of the EFCC would be launched in a fresh trial, where justice is bound to be served, in due course.”