The N2bn fraud case involving a former Head of Service, HoS, to the Federation, Stephen Oronsaye, would have to start de novo as the presiding judge, Justice J. T. Tsoho, has said he has been “instructed” to return the case file to Justice Gabriel Kolawole, who was initially assigned the case in July 2015.
Oronsaye is being prosecuted at the Federal High Court, Abuja, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on offences bordering on stealing and obtaining money by false pretence. He is alleged to have been complicit in several contract awards during his tenure as HoS, and is being charged along with Osarenkhoe Afe on an amended 35-count charge.
They had taken a plea of “not guilty” before Justice Kolawole, to the initial 24-count charge brought against them. However, findings from further investigations, according to the prosecution, had necessitated a need to amend the charges, in which Oronsaye, Afe, and Fredrick Hamilton Global Services Limited, were alleged to have been complicit in several biometric contract awards.
In the amended counts, they are charged along with three others, which are corporate bodies – Cluster Logistic Limited, Kangolo Dynamic Cleaning Limited and Drew Investment and Construction Company Limited.
Justice Kolawole had fixed February 16, 2016 for the defendants to enter their pleas for the amended counts; but on the said date, information at the court indicated that the case had been reassigned to Justice Tsoho.
At the sitting before Justice Tsoho, they could not, however, take their pleas as there were no legal representatives at the proceeding for Cluster Logistic Limited, Kangolo Dynamic Cleaning Limited and Drew Investment and Construction Company Limited. The trial judge had at the sitting adjourned till March 1, 2016 to ensure that the defendants were served with the amended charges for the case to proceed.
At the resumed sitting today, prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, told the court that the co-defendants had been served with the summons.
“We have served the fourth, fifth and sixth defendants with the summons, but they still have not appeared, and no legal representative,” he said. Citing Section 478 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, Jacobs urged the court to “enter a plea of not guilty for them since they are corporations”.
Kanu Agabi, SAN, counsel to Oronsaye, did not raise any objections, neither did Oluwole Aladedoye, counsel to Afe and Frederick Hamilton Global Services. But in a twist, Justice Tsoho, told the court that the case file came to him by error, and “the instruction is that the file be returned to the judge who started the matter and so will simply record it and return it”.
Jacobs argued that “we never asked for the case to be moved to another judge, moreover, the case has not commenced before the other judge.”
Justice Tsoho, however, ruled that: “It has been realized that the case came to me in error, and I’ve been instructed that it should be returned to Justice Kolawole who started it; he should continue where he stopped. I wish you the best of luck.”