A Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday, rejected another request by Abdulrasheed Maina, former Chairman of the defunct Pension Reformed Task Team, PRTT, for an adjournment to prepare for his defence.
Justice Okon Abang, in a ruling, said though the decision to grant the application was at court’s discretion, such plea was a ploy to waste the judicial time of the court.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that Mr Maina had, through his counsel, Abel Adaji, on Dec. 4, prayed the court for a short adjournment to allow him get a brief from his client to enable him do the needful, and Justice Abang adjourned the trial continuation for today.
At the resumed hearing, the Economics and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC’s lawyer, Farouk Abdullah, informed the court that the matter was slated for continuation of the evidence of the ninth prosecution witness, PW9, Rouqquaya Ibrahim, who is an EFCC investigator, in the case.
However, Anayo Adibe, who represented Mr Maina as counsel at the sitting, objected to the call for trial continuation on the grounds that the legal team was just taking over the case and needed adequate time to prepare.
He said though they applied for the court record, in a letter to the court registry, they were yet to get it.
However, the judge, who corrected him that the last counsel did not apply for the court record, said he only applied for a short date in order to be briefed by Mr Maina.
Mr Adibe then explained that the next working day after the adjournment, “we did the needful.”
“We apply to the registry of this honourable court for the record of proceedings as at the last date to be made available,” he said.
The lawyer further explained that they also applied to the counsel who withdrew his appearance for Mr Maina to oblige them with the copy of the charge sheet and other documents in relation to the trial.
He urged the court to accord Mr Maina the constitutional right to be defended by counsel of his choice and be given adequate time and facility for his defence.
He cited Section 349(3) of Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, to back his argument on allowing Maina reasonable time to engage counsel of his choice.
Mr Abdullah disagreed with Mr Adibe, saying his application was misplaced.
“We are surprised the counsel is taking us back from where we took off from,” he said.
He said he was aware of the provision of Section 36 of the constitution as it related to the rights of Mr Maina.
According to him, this court has safeguarded these rights, urging the judge to look at record of proceedings from inception of the trial.
The anti-graft agency’s lawyer argued that Mr Maina had been given all the rights and facilities that should be made available to him and had always been represented by counsel up to the last day the counsel withdrew.
He said though change of counsel was a right the defendant could enjoy if he wished, such right should not truncate the due administration of criminal justice regime.
He also argued that the provision of Section 349(3) was inapplicable in the case at hand because Mr Maina had legal representation before now.
“On Friday (Dec. 4), one lawyer withdrew and another lawyer came into the picture.
“It presupposes that Section 349(3) is inapplicable here,” he said.
Mr Abdullah, who said the justice of the case was for the matter to proceed, insisted that he was ready to proceed.
In his ruling, Justice Abang noted that since the matter resumed on Sept. 29, Maina had not been appearing in court until a bench warrant was issued against him and he was produced in court on Dec. 4 by security operatives.
“The issue before the court has to be properly made not on sentimental basis,” he said.
Justice Abang said the issue of fair hearing was not applicable here because Maina was not just coming into the matter for the first time.
He said Mr Maina had participated in the trial but jumped bail.
“The 1st defendant (Maina) jumped bail without reason to do so,” he held.
The judge also clarified that if Maina’s new counsel needed the case file, it was expected that the former counsel would hand over the file to the new lawyer.
“And if Joe Gadzama (former counsel) fails, the new counsel knows what to do.
“An administrative letter to registrar cannot serve as stay of proceeding.
“The new counsel cannot drag us into his own internal affairs.
“If the counsel needs CTC (Certified True Copy), he will get it even though the court is a busy court,” he said.
Justice Abang noted that Mr Maina had been offered adequate opportunity and time for his defence, refused to grant his application.
The judge ordered the witness to continue with her evidence-in-chief and ruled that if Maina’s counsel, Mr Adibe, failed to cross examine the PW9 after she completed her testimony, the cross examination would be foreclosed.
NAN reports that Mr Maina (1st defendant) was arraigned before Justice Abang, on Oct. 25, 2019, by the EFCC alongside his firm, Common Input Property and Investment Ltd.
Although he is facing 12-counts bordering on money laundering, he had pleaded not guilty to all the charges.