A serving judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Hyeladzira Nganjiwa, who was charged with unlawful enrichment to the tune of $260,000 and N8,650,000, has headed for the Court of Appeal to challenge the charges.
The judge, through his lawyer, Chief Robert Clarke (SAN), headed for the Court of Appeal after the Lagos State High Court in Igbosere dismissed his preliminary objection to the charges.
Justice Nganjiwa, who is attached to the Bayelsa Division of the Federal High Court, had contended that being a serving judge, his case ought to have been referred to the National Judicial Council as opposed to arraigning him in court.
But Justice A.A. Akintoye dismissed the objection and rather upheld the counter-argument by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, whose counsel, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, contended that a serving judge was not exempted from criminal prosecution.
Justice Akintoye agreed with Oyedepo that Section 308 of the Constitution did not list judges among public officials who had immunity against criminal prosecution.
But the displeased Justice Nganjiwa went on appeal and subsequently filed an application seeking a stay of proceedings pending the outcome of the appeal.
However, in a bench ruling on Friday, Justice Akintoye declined the request for a stay of proceedings, holding that such had since been outlawed by the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015.
The judge held, “This court is not empowered to entertain any stay of proceedings or deferment of proceedings, however, it may be described, in criminal matters.
“The judicial system has moved from delay tactics which may be brought to forestall the hearing of a case…as a result, this matter will continue today as we await the outcome of the decision of the esteemed Court of Appeal.”
Earlier, Clarke had urged Justice Akintoye to await the Court of Appeal decision, saying going ahead might be termed judicial rascality.
He said, “As of today, the Court of Appeal is fully seized of this matter…In those days when we were younger, if a lower court disregarded the judgment of a higher court, it was called judicial rascality.
“…We urge Your Lordship to err on the side of caution and, in the interest of justice, grant the application.”
But Mr. Wahab Shittu, who appeared for the EFCC on Friday in place of Oyedepo, argued that the law no longer allowed a stay of proceedings in criminal cases.
Shittu said, “We are strongly opposing this application based on statutory provisions, particularly Section 273 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State, Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and Section 40 of the EFCC Act, all of which prohibit the grant of a stay of prosecution.
“The application is incompetent because the law does not allow it. The rationale for this is to forestall delay. Our courts frown on delay tactics by defence counsel. This application is an attempt to stall proceedings by counsel.
“I urge my Lord to dismiss the application and order the prosecution to commence its case.”
Shittu’s objection was upheld.
However, the trial could not go on following Clarke’s request for time to study an application for proof of evidence served on the defendant on Thursday, by the prosecution.
He said, “I’m seeing the processes for the first time in this court. I need time to go through them.”
Justice Akintoye’s offer to stand down the matter for 30 minutes, so the defence could examine the documents, was not taken.
“30 minutes? My Lord, I am 80 years old,” Clarke said.
Following consultation with the parties, the judge agreed to “give the defendant the benefit of the doubt.”
The case was adjourned till November 13.
In the charges, the EFCC accused Justice Nganjiwa of unlawfully enriching himself as a public official by allegedly receiving a total of $260,000 and N8.65m through his bank account between 2013 and 2015.
The EFCC claimed that the judge could not explain the source of the funds, adding that he acted contrary to Section 82(a) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, No. 11, 2011.
Justice Nganjiwa was also accused of giving false information to operatives of the EFCC, which, the prosecution said, amounted to an offence under Section 39(2) of the EFCC (Establishment) Act, 2014.
But the accused judge denied all the allegations.