THE Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) yesterday urged Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court in Lagos to withdraw from the trial of two Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) employees accused of receiving bribe.
Christian Nwosu and Tijani Inda Bashir were accused of receiving N30 million bribe from former Petroleum Minister Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke to rig the 2015 general election results.
They were arraigned along with Yisa Adedoyin, who pleaded guilty to receiving cash payment of N70,050,000.00 from Mrs. Alison-Madueke.
Mrs. Alison-Madueke is also named in the charge, but is said to be “at large”.
Adedoyin was convicted following a plea bargain with EFCC in which he agreed to pay a fine of N10 million and forfeit his illicitly-acquired assets.
Nwosu pleaded guilty at first and entered a plea bargain with EFCC. But Justice Idris rejected the agreement on the basis that it was not severe enough.
It was agreed that Nwosu would forfeit the assets he acquired with the bribe money and pay N500,000 fine.
After rejecting the plea bargain agreement, Justice Idris gave Nwosu the option of changing his plea to not guilty or accepting a heavier sentence, including N10 million fine as provided in the law.
When the defendants were re-arraigned, Nwosu changed his plea to not guilty.
Yesterday, EFCC’s lawyer Rotimi Oyedepo said based on Section 270 (15) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, the judge ought to return the case-file for re-assignment.
The section reads: “Where the defendant has been informed of the heavier sentence, the defendant may…withdraw from his plea agreement, in which event the trial shall proceed de novo before another judge or magistrate, as the case may be.”
Oyedepo said should the trial continue before Justice Idris, the judge could later be accused of bias and violating the law.
“I urge my lord to remit the case to the Chief Judge for re-assignment to another judge,” the prosecutor said.
But, Nwosu’s lawyer, Victor Opara, said since the judge had rejected the plea bargain agreement, it amounts to there being no plea bargain.
Besides, he said Nwosu had pleaded not guilty to a “new” charge, adding that transferring the case to a new judge would be a waste of time.
Opara undertook not to raise the issue of bias at any point in the proceedings, including on appeal.
Justice Idris adjourned till May 24 for ruling.