A Plateau State High Court presided over by Justice Christy Dabup on Thursday refused to grant an application seeking to return the case file of ex-governor Jonah Jang to the state Chief Judge for reassignment to a new judge. Jang is standing trial alongside Yusuf Pam, an ex-cashier in the Office of the Secretary to the Plateau State Government on alleged N6.3bn fraud charges brought before the court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The anti-graft agency first arraigned the duo before Justice Daniel Longji on 17 counts bordering on criminal breach of trust and misappropriation of public money in March 2018.
However, after Justice Longji retired in December 2019, after hearing the matter for 34 times, the state Chief Judge, Justice Yakubu Dakwak, reassigned the case to a Justice Dabup, who started hearing the matter afresh. Since the re-arraignment of the former military officer, the court has not made any meaningful progress with the case due to stalled proceedings occasioned mostly by the absence of the prosecution until Thursday when the lead prosecution Counsel, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN) sought the order of the court for a new judge to take over the case.
In moving the application for the reassignment of the case, Jacobs said the nationwide lockdown occasioned by COVID-19 as well as the recent national strike by judiciary workers prevented the case from being heard. He also argued that given the fresh commencement of the case due to the retirement of the judge handling the matter, there was the need to avoid wastage like in the first trial, especially as current trial judge may not be able to conclude the case before her own retirement . He said, “We have not gone far with the case as we still have about nine witnesses to present.
“The time is not so much on the side of the trial judge. The case may suffer the same fate due to time limit. “It will be difficult for us to start recalling the witnesses for the third time. And that is what I’m trying to avert In order to avoid wastage as in the first trial so as to mitigate possible loss to the state and even to the defendant, let the matter be transferred to the State Chief Judge for reassignment.” The EFCC lawyer therefore urged the court to grant his application and return the case file to enable the Chief Judge to reassign the case to a new judge .
But counsel for Jang, Edward Pwajok (SAN), opposed the application, arguing that the ant-graft agency is only a party to the case and therefore cannot determine how the court manages it’s affairs. Pwajok said, “The request by the prosecution for the reassignment of the case is simply over-bearing. The application is entirely speculative and the court cannot act on speculation. It cannot determine for the court .The court knows how to manage its calendar for its proceedings and this is determined by Criminal Justice Administration of Plateau State, which also prescribes sitting day by day.
“Besides , the court has already taken four witnesses from the prosecution and only has eight more to present. We are ready for the case and if the prosecution are ready with their witnesses, the case won’t last long to conclude.” After listening to the argument by both parties, Justice Dabup agreed with their submissions. According to her, since there is no other court designated yet to handle such a criminal matter, it will be absurd for her to rescuse herself from the case. She therefore ordered the EFCC to go ahead with the presentation of more witnesses to enable the court make progress in the case. Justice Dabup adjourned the case till Friday for continuation of hearing.