By Sandra Umeh
Lagos – Justice Mohammed Idris of Federal High Court Lagos, on Wednesday refused to transfer the case of two employees of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) accused of receiving bribe.
Christian Nwosu and Tijani Bashir were accused of receiving N30 million bribe from former Petroleum Minister, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke to rig the 2015 general election results.
They were arraigned along with Yisa Adedoyin, who pleaded guilty to receiving cash payments from Alison-Madueke.
Alison-Madueke is also named in the charge, but is said to be “at large”.
Nwosu pleaded guilty at first and entered a plea bargain with EFCC, but Justice Idris rejected the agreement on the basis that it was not “appropriate”.
Idris gave Nwosu the option of changing his plea to not guilty or accepting a heavier sentence, including N10 million fine as provided in the law.
Nwosu agreed and changed his plea to not guilty when he was re-arraigned.
EFCC’s lawyer, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, said that based on Section 270 (15) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, the judge ought to return the case-file for re-assignment to another judge.
He said this was to avoid any accusation of bias, having rejected the plea bargain agreement.
Nwosu’s lawyer, Mr Victor Opara, however, said that since the judge had rejected the plea bargain agreement for not being in compliance with the law, it then presupposes that there was no plea bargain.
Besides, he said Nwosu had pleaded not guilty to a “new” charge and so, previous proceedings no longer mattered, adding that transferring the case to a new judge would be a waste of time.
In his ruling, Idris agreed that since the accused were re-arraigned on an amended charge, it was as if they were arraigned for the first time.
“I agree with the view that the prosecution, having amended the charge and fresh plea taken by the first accused in line with the ACJA, the court is being enjoined to commence fresh proceedings as if he is being arraigned for the first time.
“Section 217 (1) and (2) of the ACJA says: `where a new charge is framed or alteration made to a charge under the Provisions of Section 216 of this Act, the court shall call on the accused to plead to the new charge as if he is being arraigned for the first time.
“The court shall proceed with the trial as if the new or altered charge had been the original charge,’’ the judge held.
According to him, the implication of the law is that whatever transpired before the charge as amended becomes immaterial.
“The defendant is deemed to have been arraigned for the first time; this shall be the order of the court,” he held.
The court consequently adjourned trial in the case until June 26, 28 and 29.