By Moji Eniola
Ikeja – Justice Lateefa Okunnu of an Ikeja High Court has issued bench warrants on the representatives of First City Monument Bank (FCMB), the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and three others.
Okunnu issued the bench warrants following their failure to produce documents in the ongoing trial of Mr Okey Nwosu, a former Managing Director of the defunct FinBank Plc.
Nwosu is being tried alongside three other former directors of the bank over alleged N10.9 billion fraud.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Okunnu had on Feb. 14 issued subpoenas to compel FCMB, CBN and the three other witnesses to produce documents instrumental to the defence of Nwosu.
The witnesses still failed to appear on Wednesday to produce the required documents.
“In view of the failure of the Company Secretary of the FCMB, the Company Secretary of the CBN, as well as Messrs Yakubu Konsan, Emmanuel Ojeah and Festus Tsavor to produce documents before this court, a bench warrant is hereby issued to compel their appearance,” Okunnu said.
Nwosu and three former directors of the bank — Dayo Famoroti, Danjuma Ocholi and Agnes Ebubedike — are facing a 26-count charge bordering on stealing of N10.9 billion bank’s funds.
The charges were slammed on them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
There has been a three-and-a-half year legal battle up to the Supreme Court, challenging the jurisdiction of the High Court to hear the fraud case.
The Apex Court had in a judgment on July 17, 2016 ordered Nwosu and his co-defendants to go back to the High Court to face trial.
The apex court allowed the appeal filed by the Federal Government and set aside the judgment of the Lagos Court of Appeal.
NAN reports that the Court of Appeal had in its judgment on Nov. 21, 2013, held that the Lagos High Court lacked jurisdiction to try the case and freed the defendants.
However, following the judgment of the Supreme Court, the defence had opened its case in the High Court on Feb.14.
During Wednesday’s proceeding, Counsel to Nwosu, Mr N.K Oragbwu , explained the predicament of the defence’s inability to access documents to the court.
“We subpoenaed one of the witnesses which is FCMB to produce documents for this trial before March 12, and up till today, they have not produced any document and they are not in court.
“We subpoenaed Juliet Agu, a staff of FCMB, and she has been served but she has failed to appear.
“We have also subpoenaed the CBN and they have failed to appear in court.
““Mr Yakubu Konsan has been served and he contacted us to inform us that he had to travel abroad for a medical checkup and that he would be available in May.
“Two subpoenas were issued to Mr Festus Tsavor and Emmanuel Ojeah , who are both lawyers in Abuja, but we were informed that they have already left the law firm to which the subpoenas were issued. We are making additional efforts to locate them.
“I will like to request for a court order compelling the witness to come to court: a subpoena is a sacred order of court which should be obeyed when issued,” he told the court.
He added:“This shows the difficulty the defendants are facing in defending themselves as all witnesses are evading the court order.
“We are completely blind going forward, this is the difficulty of defending a case after six years.”
However, Counsel to the EFCC, Mr Rotimi Jacob (SAN), in his submission, countered Oragbwu’s assertion, stating that the defendants were not making enough efforts to get the required documents.
“I don’t think the first defendant has taken sufficient steps to get these documents, he subpoenaed four to six people and I am surprised none of them is in court.
“There is no evidence that the witnesses are aware that the matter is coming up in court today and I don’t know if the defence have complied with the rules regarding the issuance of witness summons.
““Section 181 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law states that there must be proof that witnesses were aware of an upcoming matter and willfully refused to attend.
“The first defendant has failed to tell your Lordship whether all his witnesses are limited within the subpoena, his witnesses that are not subpoenaed can testify.”
“My learned friend is emphasising that we cannot go ahead with this case: this matter was pending while the bank was still FinBank and not FCMB, they did not ask for the documents then,” Jacob said.
“They are asking for copies of the payment cheques which we even have a copy and these are cheques that they paid in themselves.
“They are requesting for the board members of FinBank Plc; who are the board members? They are the board members.
“The memorandum and articles of association of the bank which they are requesting for can be got from the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).”
Okunnu noted that a witness summons requested by Jacobs could not be issued on an individual subpoenaed to produce documents.
“There are alternative ways of getting some of these documents, do so before the next adjourned date,” she said.
The judge adjourned the case until April 4, April 7, April 10, April 11, April 12 and April 13 as well as June 23, June 26, June 27 and June 28 for continuation of trial.