By Moji Eniola
Lagos – The Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and some other civil society groups on Thursday lauded the 12-year prison sentence handed down to ex-Gov. Orji Kalu of Abia, by a Federal High Court in Lagos.
Kalu is currently a Senator.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Justice Mohammed Idris convicted Kalu on 39 counts of N7.2 billion fraud and money laundering preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
The Executive Director of SERAP, Mr Adetokunbo Mumuni, hailed the judiciary for justice delivery.
Mumuni said that the judiciary was playing its part in the anti-graft war.
“What we see now is that the judiciary is trying to live up to expectations; what must be done has to be done.
“The facts of the case have been properly reviewed, evidence thoroughly analysed; there is no basis for querying the judgment; however, let us see the reaction of Orji Uzor Kalu’s counsel to the verdict.
“If his counsel wants to appeal, they have the right to do so, but if the allegations and evidence are anything to go by, I believe justice has been properly served irrespective of whoever is involved,” he said.
Mr Malachy Ugwummadu, the National President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), noted the role the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) played in the speedy trial of the case.
Ugwummadu hailed the provisions ACJA which prevented the trial from starting de novo (from the beginning) when the trial judge was elevated to the Court of Appeal.
“The speed with which this case was adjudicated has everything to do with the ACJA that now allows that a trial judge, though elevated, can return to conclude an ongoing criminal proceeding.
“The ACJA is explicit, it is proactive, it is definitive, it allows a judge, who started a trial and got elevated to a superior court, to return to conclude proceedings.
“This is exactly what happened here. Orji Uzor Kalu was arraigned before Justice Mohammed Idris, who within the period of the trial, was elevated to the Court of Appeal. Today, he delivered that judgment.
“To that extent, it is remarkable because it touches on the speedy dispensation of justice. What obtained before now, was the matter starting de novo with the transfer or elevation of the judge,” he said.
According to the CDHR president, the judgment proved that no individual is above the law.
“The law remains the law. The fact that Sen. Orji Uzor Kalu defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC) from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) did not provide a cover for him.
“This judgment has established a precedent; but giving the caliber of the defendant, we are likely going to see an appeal against the judgment,” Ugwummadu said.
Also in an interview with NAN, the President of Voters Awareness Initiative, Mr Wale Ogunade, described the judgment as victory for democracy.
“It is a victory for democracy because it shows that nobody is above the law.
“Orji Uzor Kalu moved from one political party to another trying to hobnob with President Buhari to save him from the law.
“Nobody is above the law, no matter how connected you are,. No matter how long it takes, the long arm of the law will catch up with anyone who breaks the law.
“I hope it will serve as a warning to any Nigerians who think they are powerful; the only powerful being is God,” Ogunade, a lawyer and rights activist, said.