Barrister Monday Ubani, immediate-past National Vice President of Nigeria Bar Association (NBA) has hailed the Supreme Court judgment on Senator Orji Uzo Kalu, stressing that the fiat given to the trial judge to continue with the case was inconsistent with the constitution.
The lawyer maintained that the trial judge erred seriously in the handling of Kalu’s matter, which had led to the nullification of his conviction and sentence.
Ubani, in a statement made available to journalists on Saturday, maintained that the Supreme Court Justices held that the judge who concluded the trial had no jurisdiction as the said fiat he was given to conclude the trial was inconsistent with the provision of the constitution that a judge of the Court of Appeal could not descend to also be a judge of the Federal High Court.
He said: “The composition of the trial court was at variance with the provision of the constitution that gives jurisdiction to the Federal High Court. The meticulous eyes of the judges of the Supreme Court saw the aberration and did not hesitate to so hold.
“What the judgment says is that the trial of Kalu and others should start at the Federal High Court before a different and new judge assigned by the Chief Judge of that court De Novo (from beginning).”
He said the jurisdiction was a threshold issue, and either a court had one or it did not, and whenever the issue was raised, even if for the first time at the Supreme Court, and if found to be lacking, the Supreme Court would always nullify such trial.
Ubani stressed that the Supreme Court judgment was sound and there was no basis to criticise or fault it legally, except on sentimental basis.
He stressed that those who drafted the constitution and inserted the section that permitted a trial judge that had been elevated to continue with the trial at the trial court meant well, but they should have also persuaded the amendment of the constitution by the legislature on the issue of the jurisdiction of the trial court in the circumstance.
“The Prosecution, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) should assemble all its witnesses once again and be prepared to commence trial afresh after the Chief Judge would have assigned the case to a new judge.
“The judgment did not say that Kalu is acquitted and discharged from the offence of the alleged fraud. He still has to face his trial anew,” he said.
It would be recalled that Justice Mohammed Idris, now at the Court of Appeal, was the judge over the criminal trial of Senator Kalu at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi.
The trial lasted about 12 years, while the judge was subsequently elevated to the Court of Appeal.
The trial appeared stalled until the President of of the Court of Appeal invoked a section of the Administration of Criminal Act, 2015 that empowered her to grant a fiat to the judge to return to the Federal High Court to conclude the trial, which he did, leading to the conviction and sentencing of former governor of Abia State.