By Chinyere Omeire
Some lawyers in Lagos on Friday expressed different views on the nullification of former Gov. Orji Kalu’s conviction by the Supreme Court.
In interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos, some of them said that the Supreme Court’s decision was expected while others said that Supreme Court’s nullification of the conviction on technical grounds was not worrisome.
The Supreme Court on Friday nullified the Dec. 5, 2019, judgement of the Federal High Court which convicted Kalu and Ude Udeogu, a former Director of Finance and Accounts in Abia Government House, of N7.1 billion fraud.
Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court in Lagos sentenced Kalu, a serving senator, to 12 years’ imprisonment and sentenced Udeogu to 10 years’ imprisonment.
The Supreme Court, however, nullified the judgement and ordered retrial of the case on grounds that the trial judge was no longer in the Federal High Court at the time he delivered the judgement.
Mr Abiodun Owonikoko (SAN) said that he knew that the judgment of the trial court was technically flawed.
“It was easy to predict that it might not survive on appeal based on the fact that the judge come from the Court of Appeal to conclude and deliver judgment in a criminal trial that he was handling before his elevation to the Court of Appeal.
“The Administration of Criminal Justice Law gave that leeway, but it requires a constitutional amendment to validate it.
“Unfortunately, we did not have such amendment at the material time and sadly, till date .
“All hope is not lost, however; the legislature can be approached to do the needful and render this judgment academic for future cases,” Owonikoko said.
Another lawyer, Mr Chris Ayiyi, told NAN that the apex court did not err in its decision.
“That is the position of the law. As at the time the judge was elevated, he had become funtus officio in that case.
“He could have written the judgment and allowed any judge at the high court to read it,” Ayiyi said.
Reacting, Mr Chibuikem Opara, also a lawyer noted that the apex court relied on technicalities in giving the judgment.
“This reliance on technicalities is becoming too many as it goes a long way to erode public confidence in the judiciary as epitomised by the Supreme Court.
“The earlier we place less reliance on technicalities, the better for Nigeria,”Opara said.
According to him, the trial judge, Idris, began trial in the case while he was a high court judge, but concluded the case by fiat which gave him jurisdiction to conclude the case. (NAN)