Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday agreed to hear the pending applications by former Minister of Aviation Chief Femi Fani-Kayode and former Minister of State for Finance, Senator Nenadi Usman.The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arraigned them on a 17-count charge of laundering about N4.6billion. They pleaded not guilty.Defence counsel, including Norrisson Quakers (SAN) and Abiodun Owonikoko, had refused to cross-examine the first prosecution witness because of the pending applications.The defendants are challenging the court’s jurisdiction and are praying the judge to transfer the case to Abuja division.Ruling yesterday on whether or not to hear the pending applications, Justice Hassan said he would hear them since they were not challenging the “competence” of the charge.
He held: “I have reproduced the relevant provisions of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, for purposes of clarity. Section 221 of the Act provides that an objection can be taken on the basis of an incompetent charge; Section 273 provides that an accused who pleads not guilty to a charge has submitted to the court’s jurisdiction.“It is also the law that after the plea of an accused has been taken, an objection can be raised at any time in relation to the charge before judgment. The law also provides that trial shall be from day to day with adjournment not exceeding five times.“From a close reading of these statutory provisions, it is clear that the pending applications are not on the competence of the charge but outside the scope of the ACJA, as the second defendant (Fani-Kayode) is apprehensive that he will not get fair trial.“In view of the foregoing provisions and on the basis of fair hearing and the interest of justice, I will take the three pending applications. But I must state that cross examination of PW1 does not amount to a waiver of jurisdiction,” he held.Fani-Kayode is praying the judge to decline jurisdiction and transfer the case to the court’s Abuja division.The former minister said Justice Hassan, who worked as a prosecutor at the Federal Ministry of Justice and later EFFC before his appointment as a judge, signed the charge against him when he was previously tried and acquitted by Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia for money launderingUsman, with two pending applications, is praying the court to allow her to be tried separately from Fani-Kayode and for her trial to be transferred to Abuja for convenience.