Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos, on Monday, November 5, 2018, ordered a former governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu, to return to the country within the next seven days to open his defence in an alleged N7.6bn fraud trial.
Kalu is standing trial alongside his former Commissioner for Finance, Ude Udeogu and a company, Slok Nigeria Limited, on an amended 39-count charge of money laundering to the tune of N7.6bn.
At the resumed hearing today, counsel to the former governor, Awa Kalu, SAN, told the court that his client had travelled to Germany for a surgical operation. He further told the court that the former governor had been advised by his doctors to remain in Germany for some time to recuperate.
Counsel to the first defendant, who said the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, was aware of the development, therefore, urged the Judge to further adjourn the case.
However, the prosecution counsel, Jacobs, said he was surprised at Kalu’s absence from court, adding that he did not know if or when the ex-governor obtained the court’s permission to travel out.
Jacobs stated that the former governor, who was ordered to submit his international passport to the court as part of his bail conditions, must always apply to the court for the passport whenever he wishes to travel out of the country.
He said: “I am not aware when the first defendant wanted to travel. We only got to know that the first defendant travelled abroad for medical treatment through his media aide, one Kunle Oyewunmi.
“Things must be done in accordance with the Law. In my own view, what happened is that the first defendant has jumped bail.
“This is an attempt to further frustrate this trial because no application was made to the court to travel.
“I urge Your Lordship to treat the absence of the first defendant as that he has jumped bail.”
In his response, Kalu’s lawyer urged the court to discountenance Jacobs’ argument, saying, ” as at when Kalu travelled out, the court had adjourned the case sine die.
In his ruling, Justice Idris held that it was true that the matter was adjourned sine die on September 27, 2018, but that Kalu was on November 2, 2018 served with a hearing notice that the case had been scheduled for Monday( today).
The Judge also held that though the court received a mail confirming Kalu’s treatment arrangement, the defence counsel failed to attach any medical report to guide the court as to his client’ post-surgery treatment.
“I have always stated that every citizen of this country is entitled to and has the right to seek medical treatment abroad.
“This right is guaranteed by the Constitution, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It is an inalienable right.
“However, this right has exceptions. Therefore, in exercising this rights, due regard must be had for the law and due process.
“Apart from the mail confirming the treatment arrangement of the first defendant, the defence counsel should have obtained a medical report on the condition of the first defendant post-surgery. This would have properly guided the court in the proceedings of today.
“However, in the light of the entirety of this case and in the interest of justice, I am prepared to grant to the first defendant a final adjournment in respect of this matter.
“In the light of the provisions of the ACJA, I shall not adjourn for more than seven days from today.
” It is, therefore, hereby directed that the first defendant shall return to the country within seven days from today’s date for the hearing of this matter, “the Judge further held.
The matter was adjourned to November 12, 2018 for continuation of trial.