Tuesday, November 18, 2014 7:56 pm
Nnamdi Felix/ Abuja
Trial of Farouk Lawan, the former Chairman, House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy regime and former Secretary of the committee, Mr. Boniface Emenalo, was stalled Tuesday as the trial judge, Justice Adebukola Banjoko withdrew from the case following the allegation of bias levelled against the judge by the lawmaker.
Lawan and Emenalo were standing trial over their alleged receipt of $620,000 bribe from businessman, Femi Otedola.
Justice Banjoko voluntarily bowed out of the case and ordered the case file to be returned to the FCT Chief Judge, Justice Ibrahim Bukar, despite Lawan’s withdrawal of his application requesting her to quit the case.
The judge noted that though the application had been withdrawn and the Chief Judge had cleared her of the allegation in Lawan’s petition against her, the allegation was a “scandalous challenge” of her integrity.
“In my 17 years on the bench – six years as a magistrate and 11 years as a judge – I have never been confronted with a scandalous challenge of my integrity,” the judge said.
Lawan’s counsel, Chief Mike Ozekhome, a senior advocate of Nigeria who had filed the application dated October 29, 2014, asking the judge to quit the case, announced its withdrawal at the proceedings.
Apart from the application, Lawan had also personally petitioned the FCT Chief Judge, accusing Justice Banjoko of likely bias based on an alleged close relationship between her and the Chairman, Zenon Petroleum and Gas Ltd, Mr. Femi Otedola, who is a proposed witness and the accuser in the case.
Lawan’s lawyer, Ozekhome, however denied knowledge of the petition written by Lawan even though he filed the application, asking the judge to disqualify herself from further handling of the case based on his client’s allegation.
Ozekhome thereafter pleaded with the judge to overlook the wrong impression, which the application and his client’s petition must have created and to go ahead with the trial.
The prosecuting counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, also a senior advocate of Nigeria, equally apologised on behalf of the accused person and urged the judge to continue with the case. The judge declined and denied any relationship with Otedola.
“Justice is rooted in confidence. The accused having first exhibited his lack of confidence in me, I can no longer continue to hear the case. In the prevailing circumstances, I do find it difficult to continue this case. This case is returned to the honourable Chief Judge for re-assignment,” Justice Banjoko ruled.