The planned arraignment of a former Minister of Aviation, Senator Stella Oduah, for alleged N7.9bn fraud was on Monday aborted at a Federal High Court in Abuja for the sixth time.
On Monday, Oduah, who recently joined the All Progressives Congress, could not be arraigned because of a letter written to the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Abdulrasheed Bawa, by the Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami (SAN).
The arraignment before Justice Inyang Ekwo was aborted by a petition filed by two co-defendants to Oduah.
The two co-defendants – Crystal Television Limited and Sobora International Limited – are listed as 7th and 8th defendants.
The PUNCH reported that shortly after Oduah, who is representing Anambra North in the Senate, and three others were called into the dock to take their plea, counsel to 7th and 8th defendants, Ogwu Onoja (SAN), objected to the arraignment on the ground that his clients were being persecuted by EFCC.
According to him, the aggrieved defendants had petitioned Malami, seeking for a review of the charges against them.
Ogwu informed Justice Ekwo that the AGF, upon receipt of the petition, wrote the chairman of the EFCC to remit the case file to his office for a review, adding that in flagrant disregard to the AGF’s letter, the EFCC had refused to remit the case file to the AGF.
He tendered a certified true copy of the AGF’s letter as received by the EFCC chairman and urged the court not to go ahead in the arraignment until the petition has been resolved in the interest of justice.
However, lawyer to the EFCC, Ofem Uket, denied knowing anything about the AGF letter, adding that as an employee of the EFCC, he was just seeing the letter for the first time in court.
The counsel urged the court to disregard the petition by the defendants and proceed to arraign them.
He said the AGF would have come to the court if he had any opposition to the arraignment.
However, Justice Ekwo said since the petition was raised as both a statutory and constitutional matter by the defendants, he would not proceed.
The judge therefore ordered counsel in the matter to file written addresses for and against the issue raised in the open court and exchange same on the competence of the charges before the adjournment date.
Justice Ekwo therefore fixed February 10, 2022 for adoption of the written addresses and also ordered that Oduah and other defendants in the charges should continue to enjoy the administrative bail earlier granted them.
Oduah’s planned arraignment for November 22 (Monday) in the corruption charges had, before now, been stalled five times due to her persistent absence in court and public holiday.
Justice Ekwo had on July 12 threatened to issue a warrant of arrest for her arrest should she fail to make herself available for arraignment on the then adjourned date of October 19 which later fell on Eid-el Maulud holiday.
The arrest threat was issued following her non-appearance to honour court proceedings of July 12 without any explanation from her side.
The EFCC is alleging that Oduah misappropriated the N7.9bn public funds while serving as aviation minister under former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration.