The arraignment of Justice Hyeladzira Ajiya Nganjiwa, one of the judges recently recalled by the National Judicial Council, before Justice Akintoye of Lagos State High Court, Igbosere, was today stalled owing to the absence of the defendant in court.
Justice Nganjiwa was to be docked on a 14-count charge bordering on unlawful enrichment and giving false information to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. The judge allegedly received $260,000 and N8.65 million through his bank accounts between 2013 and 2015 from suspicious and inexplicable sources.
When the matter was called today Justice Ngajinwa was conspicuously absent. His counsel, Robert Clarke SAN, who apologized for the absence, told the court that Justice Ngajinwa could not travel from his base in Bayelsa State due to flight problems, while promising that his client will be in court at the next adjourned date.
The learned silk however drew the court’s attention to the failure of the EFCC to attach the title ‘Justice’ to his client’s name on the charge sheet, saying he had already filed a notice or preliminary objection to challenge the charge.
Prosecuting counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo expressed disappointment at the absence of the accused, which he claimed is tantamount to disrespect for the court as the defendant was duly served.
“We are extremely disappointed by the willful refusal of the defendant to appear before Your Lordship. On the 9th of June, the defendant was served with the charge, which he acknowledged. He was also duly informed of the proceedings before My Lord today. It is an act of disrespect for the defendant not to appear before this court.”
On the failure to attach the title ‘Justice’ to Nganjiwa’s name on the charge sheet, Oyedepo said the status of the defendant is not an issue before the court. “As a matter of fact, all animals are equal. The status of the defendant has nothing to do with his appearance before Your Lordship. His decision not to appear before Your Lordship is deliberate and is an attempt to frustrate the expeditious trial of this case,”he said.
However, Clarke urged the judge to disregard Oyedepo’s claim that his client deliberately refused to appear in court today.
Consequently, Justice Akintoye said she would give the accused the benefit of the doubt.
Clarke, while arguing his client’s preliminary objection to the charge, contended that Justice Akintoye lacked the jurisdiction to entertain the case because, according to him, only the National Judicial Council had the power to deal with the kind of allegations brought against Justice Nganjiwa, a serving judge, by virtue of Section 158 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Oyedepo disagreed and argued that Justice Nganjiwa had no immunity from criminal prosecution.
The case has been adjourned to June 23, 2017 by Justice Akintoye, who ordered the defense counsel to produce Justice Nganjiwa in court.