Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja, on Thursday, dismissed a plea by a defendant, Zulkifik Abba, to stop the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from closing its case, in the ongoing trial of a former Adamawa Governor, Murtala Nyako.
Mr Zulkifik, who is the third defendant, had on November 13, asked the court to order the EFCC to call three witnesses listed among the prosecution’s prospective witnesses shortly after the anti-graft agency signified intention to close its case.
The EFCC had called 21 witnesses in the ongoing trial and indicated its plan to close its case because the remaining three witnesses, it had planned to call, were no longer available.
However, Mr Zulkifik’s lawyer, Yakubu Maikyau, objected to the prosecution’s decision to close its case and urged the court to compel it to call the three witnesses on the grounds that they were relevant to his client’s case and for him to cross-examine them.
In his ruling on Thursday, Justice Abang held that the request by the defendant has no foundation in law.
The judge said the Evidence Act, the Rules of Court and the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) which applied to a criminal trial, did not allow the court to compel the prosecution to call witnesses it could not produce.
Mr Abang noted that the prosecution had, while applying to close its case, said it could not reach the three proposed witnesses, one of who it said is currently receiving medical treatment in London.
He criticised the third defendant’s claim that his request was hinged on its right to fair hearing.
He held that “fair hearing has been complied with in this case, which means that the trial has been conducted following the law and rules of court.”
“The court has adequately complied with the provision of 36(6)(b) of the Constitution. The section did not say a defendant should be provided with all facility to conduct its case; it said adequate facility and that has been done.
“The the decision by the prosecution not to call the three witnesses was not deliberate. They were not available.
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“The request by the third defendant in his application is not provided for under the ACJA.
“If the defence is desirable of calling these three witnesses, it can apply for the statements of the witnesses and also apply for the issuance of witness summons on them,” the judge said.
‘No case submission’
At the conclusion of his ruling, Justice Abang allowed the EFCC lawyer, Oluwaleke Atolagbe, to close its case, following which the defendants’ lawyers indicated their intention to make no-case submissions for their clients.
A no-case submission is when there is no sufficient evidence adduced by the prosecution upon which the court can convict the accused or the defendant and when there is no need for the accused or defendant to enter his defence and make a case proving his innocence.
If the no-case submission succeeds, the trial is terminated and the defendant freed. But, if it fails, the defendant is ordered to enter a defence.
Justice Abang, later, adjourned to March 6, for parties to adopt their written addresses in relation to the no-case submission.
Mr Nyako, the former governor of Adamawa, his son, Abdulaziz Nyako and seven others, including companies, are standing trial on a 37-count charge bordering on money laundering.
The charges against the defendants include criminal conspiracy, abuse of office, the opening of multiple bank accounts and stealing to the tune of N40 billion.
They were accused of diverting the said funds, using five companies namely Blue Opal Limited, Sebore Farms and Extension Ltd., Pogada Fortunes Limited, Tower Asset Management Ltd and Crust Energy Limited.
The defendants, who were arraigned by the EFCC, allegedly opened over 30 different accounts with Zenith Bank Plc. with the money, between 2011 and 2013.