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Tuesday, October 22

Witnesses absence stalls NBC chief’s, others’ ‘N2.5 billion fraud trial’

Inability of the prosecution to produce its two remaining witnesses on Monday stalled proceedings in the trial of the Director General of the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), Is’haq Modibo Kawu, and three others, at a Federal High Court in Abuja.

Kawu, Pinnacle Communications Limited, its Chairman, Lucky Omoluwa, and the firm’s Chief Operating Officer, Dipo Onifade, are facing trial for alleged fraud discovered in the handling of N2.5 billion, which formed part of the seed grant for the Digital Switch-Over (DSO) project of the Federal Government.

At the resumption of proceedings on Monday, lead prosecuting lawyer Ephraim Otti told the court that the two witnesses he planned to present for the day were not available.

Otti, who is from the prosecuting agency – the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) – said one of the witnesses travelled to Dubai, while the other said he could not make it.

When Justice Folasade Giwa-Ogunbanjo asked him who the intended witnesses were, Otti said the one that travelled to Dubai “is the subpoenaed bureau de change operator, while the other one, who said he could not make it to court today (yesterday) is the Honourable Minister of Information”.

Otti prayed the court for an adjournment to enable him produce the witnesses on the next adjourned date.

Lawyers to the defendants, including Abdulhakeem Mustapha (SAN), frowned at the request, accusing the prosecution of deliberately delaying the proceedings.

Mustapha averred that by the court’s schedule on the matter, the prosecution was still entitled to one additional adjournment, but that the court would close its case should it fail to produce its witnesses on the next date.

Responding, Otti said: “We are not deliberately delaying. It is because of the challenges at hand. The witnesses are not our workers; that is why we are unable to compel them to attend court today (yesterday).”

The lawyer, who said the two witnesses were his last, promised to ensure they attend court on the next adjourned date. Justice Giwa-Ogunbanjo warned the prosecution against further delay. She said: “You must avert your mind to the provision of Section 396 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA).

“If you are having challenges in bringing witnesses, you know what to do. If you are serious in bringing the witnesses, you know the options available to you. You have to bring your witnesses. It is not in your interest to continue in this manner.

“A word is enough for the wise. If you are sincere in prosecuting this matter, you should come with your witnesses on the next adjourned date.”

The judge adjourned till December 3 for continuation of trial.

Also, a Federal High Court in Abuja has insisted that former Comptroller General of Customs (CGC), Abdullahi Inde Dikko, must attend court to be arraigned on a criminal charge pending against him.

Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu ordered on Monday that Dikko must attend court on November 10 for his arraignment on the 10-count charge.

The former Nigeria Customs Service (NCS) chief and two others are accused of defrauding the Managing Director of Cambial Limited, Yemi Obadeyi, of N1.1 billion.

Justice Ojukwu gave the order while ruling on an application for adjournment by Dikko’s lawyer, Abubakar Magaji (SAN), when the case was called.

The judge asked why Dikko was absent in court and Magaji said: “He is in the hospital and undergoing medical examination.”

The lawyer said his client had a kidney ailment.

Magaji then applied for an adjournment to enable his client attend to his health and return on a later date for arraignment.

Lawyer to the prosecution, Ephraim Otti, objected to an adjournment.

He said from what he saw in the medical report tendered by Magaji, “the first defendant is not sick, but just requires routine medical check-up. This is a ploy to further delay the hearing of this case”.

Justice Ojukwu granted Magaji’s prayer but insisted that Dikko must attend court on the next date for the purpose of his arraignment along with the other defendants – Garba Makarfi (a former Assistant Comptroller in charge of finance at the Nigeria Customs Service) and Umar Husseini (a lawyer) – who were in court yesterday.

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