The President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa, has directed that the alleged N2.9bn fraud case against former Governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, must be concluded before the end of September.
The trial judge, Justice Mohammed Idris, made this known on Monday at the resumption of proceedings in the case at the Federal High Court in Lagos.
Kalu, Governor of Abia State between 1999 and 2007, is being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for allegedly diverting N2.9bn from the state’s treasury.
He was charged alongside his company, Slok Nigeria Limited, and Ude Udeogu, who served under him as the Director of Finance and Account, Abia State Government House.
The defendants have, however, pleaded not guilty to the 34 charges pressed against them.
Though all judges, except those designated as vacation judges, have proceeded on their annual vacation, which will end in September, Justice Idris has stayed back to hear Kalu’s case, ostensibly to conclude it before September when he would get busy at the Court of Appeal – his new duty post.
Kalu’s lawyer, Prof. Awa Kalu (SAN), had earlier written to Bulkachuwa to release Justice Idris to enable him conclude hearing in Kalu’s case, which is already at an advanced stage.
The defence counsel made the request in pursuant to Section 396(7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, which allows a high court judge elevated to the Court of Appeal to conclude all partly-heard cases in his docket at the high court.
During the proceeding on July 16, the prosecuting counsel for the Federal Government, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), and other defence counsel, Chief K.C. Nwofor (SAN) and Solo Akuma (SAN), gave their consent that Justice Idris should conclude the case despite his elevation to the Court of Appeal.
The prosecution had on May 11, 2018 closed its case, while the defence counsel hinted that they would file no-case submissions in response to the charges.
However, the prosecutor, Jacobs, later sought to amend the charges and re-arraign the ex-governor and his co-defendants, a move that the defence counsel resisted.
While the defence counsel contended that the prosecution could not amend the charges without first obtaining the leave of the court to do so, the prosecutor maintained that the leave of the court was unnecessary.
Justice Idris adjourned the case till Tuesday, July 17, for ruling.