By Sandra Umeh
Lagos, – A Federal High Court In Lagos, on Friday, ordered the re-arraignment of a former presidential aide, Waripamo-Owei Dudafa charged by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), over N1.6 billion fraud.
Dudafa, an ex aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan, is charged alongside one Iwejuo Nna.
EFCC alleged that they committed the offence on June 11, 2013.
They were first arraigned in 2016, before Justice Mohammed Idris, on 23-counts of conspiracy to conceal proceeds of crime amounting to N1.6 billion.
On Friday, Justice Mohammed Idris ordered the re-arraignment of the accused, after dismissing objections to the amended 22 count charge preferred against them by the EFCC.
The accused were consequently, re-arraigned on the amended charge, and they pleaded not guilty to same.
The court then allowed the accused to continue with the previous bail earlier granted by the court.
After their re-arraignment, the defence informed the court that they would need to call their witnesses afresh.
In response, the prosecutor, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, told the court that even if they wished to recall any of the prosecution witnesses, he would oblige them.
The court adjourned the matter until Nov. 19, for trial by 1 p.m.
Before their re-arraignment, the court had delivered his ruling, dismissing the objections to the amended charge.
The court had held that an amendment was permissible by law at any time before judgment, adding that once there is an amendment, the accused are expected to plead to same.
“Section 396(7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, allows the court to conclude part heard matters within reasonable time, and I have no doubt that this falls within the ambit of the law.
“This court is sitting pursuant to a flat, and this fiat is not open ended, but will expire after its time, and the trial will begin de novo before another judge.
“The defendants are at liberty to call or recall any witness in the case; in my opinion, a reasonable time is when the time for justice does not wear out against the parties, but is seen to be done,” the court had held
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the prosecution closed its case on March 16, but the accused opted to make a no-case submission in its defence.
Defence had urged the court to dismiss the case, on the grounds that the prosecution failed to establish any case against them.
Justice Idris had in a ruling delivered in August, dismissed the no case submission of the accused, and ordered them to open their defence.
Defence had since opened its case, after which the court adjourned for adoption of final written addresses.
On Nov.12, the prosecutor, Oyedepo, informed the court of an amended charge against the accused, and told the court that same had been served on defence, and urged that the accused be re arraigned.
In response, defence counsel, Messrs Gboyega Oyewole (SAN) and Ige Asemudara, respectively, resisted the move by prosecution, on the grounds that they had not studied the amended charge.
The court had then adjourned for hearing of arguments on the new charge.
On Nov.15, defence counsel had respectively argued their objections in opposition to the amended charge, urging the court to strike out same.
They argued. that the amendment would prejudice the case of the accused, adding that Justice Idris, who had been elevated to the Court of Appeal, lacked jurisdiction to allow the amendment, as he was only empowered to conclude cases.
They argued that an amended charge was a fresh charge, adding that the court was not supposed to hear fresh cases.
In response, the prosecutor argued, that even before final addresses were filed, he had given the defence notice of the said amendment.
He argues that the amendment had not divested the court of the power to go on with the case pursuant to Section 396 (7).
He had urged the court to allow the charge and cause the respective pleas of the accused to be taken.
In the charge, EFCC alleged that the accused on June 11, 2013, conspired to conceal the sum of N1.6billion, which they reasonably ought to have known formed part of proceeds of unlawful act.
The offences contravenes the provisions of sections 15 (2), 15(3), and 18 of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, 2012.