The scheduled arraignment of Senator Stella Oduah of Anambra North before a Federal High Court in Abuja for the sixth time in a row suffered another setback on Monday.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is seeking to charge Oduah, a former Aviation Minister under former President Goodluck Jonathan, with N5 billion fraud.
The lawmaker and eight others were scheduled to be arraigned before Justice Inyang Ekwo, November 22, but the arraignment was postponed due to some observations made by her lawyer.
When the case was called, the senator and three others were to enter the dock to enter their pleas before counsel for the 7th and 8th defendants, Ogwu Onoja (SAN), who objected to the arraignment on the grounds that his clients are being persecuted by the EFCC.
According to the senior lawyer, the aggrieved defendants had petitioned the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Mr. Abubakar Malami (SAN), for a review of the charges against them.
Ogwu informed Justice Ekwo that, upon receipt of the petition, the AGF wrote to the EFCC’s executive chairman requesting that the case file be remitted to his office for review, adding that, in flagrant disregard of the AGF’s letter, the EFCC had flatly refused to remit the case file to the AGF.
He presented the court with a certified true copy of the AGF’s letter as received by the EFCC chairman and urged the court not to proceed with the arraignment until the petition was resolved in the interest of justice.
Mr. Ofem Uket, counsel to the EFCC, however, denied knowing anything about the AGF’s letter, claiming that as an EFCC employee, he was only seeing the letter for the first time in court.
The council urged the court to dismiss the defendants’ petition and proceed with the arraignment.
He stated that if the AGF had any objections to the arraignment, he would have appeared in court.
However, Justice Ekwo stated that because the defendants raised the petition as a statutory and constitutional issue, he would not proceed.
The judge then directed counsel in the case to file written addresses in support of and in opposition to the issue raised in open court and to exchange them on the competence of the charges before the adjourned date.
Justice Ekwo set February 10, 2022, as the date for the adoption of the written addresses and also ordered that Mrs. Oduah and the other defendants in the charges continue to be released on bail.
Oduah’s planned arraignment in the corruption case on November 22 had previously been postponed five times due to her persistent absence from the court and a public holiday.
On July 12, Justice Ekwo threatened to issue a bench warrant for her arrest if she did not appear for arraignment on the then-adjourned date of October 19, which later fell on the Eid-el Maulud holiday.
The arrest warrant was issued as a result of her failure to appear in court on July 12th, with no explanation from her side.
The EFCC alleges that Oduah misused about N5 billion in public funds while serving as Aviation Minister during former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration.
Mrs. Gloria Odita, Mrs. Nwosu Nnamdi, Mrs. Chukwuma Chinyere, Global Offshore, and Marine Limited, Tip Top Global Resources Limited, Crystal Television Limited, and Sobora International Limited are among those named as defendants.
They are charged with conspiracy, money laundering, and keeping anonymous bank accounts.