The trial of former Chairman, Akoko Edo Local Government Area, Edo State, Hon. Akerejola Joseph Folorunsho and five others slated to begin on Tuesday, before Justice E. A. Edigin of the State High Court, Benin could not go on as planned as the defence is challenging the competence of the court to entertain the matter.
Folorunsho is being prosecuted alongside Ogbekhiulu Benjamin, Enabulele Ferguson, John Victor Ewelafor, Gadimoh Ozaveshe and Amuda Balogun on a 12-count charge of criminal conspiracy, inflation of contracts and forgery by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
They are alleged to have, in various capacities, inflated contracts to the tune of N11.3m and forged documents for the execution of projects in the council.
The accused were arraigned on February 5, 2016 and the case was adjourned to today for trial to commence.
However, the trial could not commence as defence counsel, I. M. C. Ohiogwehei is inviting the court to strike out the matter saying that, the condition precedent to filing the charges was not met by the prosecution.
According to him, the court is robbed of the jurisdiction to hear the matter, because the prosecution did not seek the leave of the court before filing their submissions in contravention of Section 340(1), (2) and (3) of the Criminal Procedure Law.
Ohiogwehei also claimed that, the accused were charged under non-existent laws. He stated that counts 1, 2, 3, 9, 10, 11 and 12 of the charges, relating to inflation of contracts, were filed under the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences (ICPC) Act, 2000 which had been repealed.
He submitted that, the charge is an abuse of the court process and should be struck out.
In response, counsel to the EFCC, Steve Odiase expressed his dismay at the action of the defence which he described as a calculated attempt to frustrate trial.
Odiase said the motion, though dated March 25, 2016 was filed just on April 18, 2016 and served on him “by 8:53am this morning, April 19, 2016 (few minutes before the commencement of the sitting)”.
He urged the court to allow him time to study the motion and respond to it.
Justice Edigin berated the defense counsel, saying, “… all the dates fixed for trial cannot hold, and it is your (Ohiogwehei) fault. You have Odiase’s number. You could have reached him long before today.”
Thereafter, the judge adjourned to June 21, 2016 for adoption of motions and counter motions.