Respite for Orji Kalu as Supreme Court Quashes Conviction…I learnt valuable lessons – Kalu

The Supreme Court on Friday in Abuja freed on technicality, Orji Uzor Kalu, senate chief whip and former governor of Abia State, and Jones Ude Udeogu, a former director of finance and account at the Abia State Government House during his regime. A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos presided by Justice Mohammed Liman Idris had sentenced Orji to 12 years imprisonment on December 5, 2019, for allegedly stealing N7.65 billion from the Abia State treasury during his tenure as governor, while Udeogu got 10 years .

However, it is a temporary relief for the embattled former governor and his co-accused as the apex court did not exonerate them of the offence they were convicted of. A seven-man panel headed by Justice Ejembi Eko unanimously declared the high court judgment null and void and of no effect on the ground that Justice Idris was already appointed a justice of the Court of Appeal when he delivered the judgment.

Justice Eko held that a justice of the Court of Appeal cannot operate as a judge of the Federal High Court at the same time.  The Court ordered the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to reassign the case for trial. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, will now have to return to the high court to argue its case afresh. For Orji, this temporary relief will enable him to return to the Senate where he is representing Abia North on the platform of the All Progressives Congress, APC.

Justice Idris was elevated to the Appeal Court on June 20 when the trial was almost concluded. He announced to the parties that he had a special fiat from the President of the Court of Appeal to conclude the trial. The fiat was said to have expired on July 28, 2019.  Justice Idris had told the counsels to the parties, “Just to brief counsel that by a fiat dated July 8, the President of the Court of Appeal has directed that I conclude this partly heard matter; trial will now run from day to day until we finish”. After repeated absence in court by Kalu, Justice Idris revoked his bail on Nov. 12, 2018, and ordered him to submit himself to the EFCC within 24 hours of his return to the country.

The defendants later challenged the jurisdiction of the judge to hear the case, arguing that he was no longer a judge of the high court, followed by an application seeking a stay of proceedings pending the outcome of their appeals. Justice Idris dismissed both applications. Nullifying the judgment on Friday, the Supreme Court however held that the Fiat that was issued to him by the Court of Appeal President pursuant to section 396(7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act was unconstitutional.

Speaking after his release from the Nigerian correctional facility in Kuje, Abuja, Kalu said the past five months had been “quite a profound period for me” adding: “As challenging as that period has been, it has provided me an opportunity to learn invaluable lessons about our country, our peoples, our justice system and the true meaning of love. I mean love for family, love for our country, and love for humanity”. He said “Overall, my experience tested and reaffirmed my belief and confidence in our country, Nigeria. My case is a true Nigerian story with a bold MADE-IN-NIGERIA stamp on it. It is a story of initial injustice that was caught and ultimately corrected. It is a story of restoration. It is a story of how a wrong was righted and how justice and truth prevailed in the end. It is a story of the power of hope.

“My case should teach us all that even though we may not get things right at the first attempt, with patience and dedication, we shall get them right eventually. That is the lesson of my case and that is the lesson of our country – that with dedication and patience, we shall place Nigeria in its rightful place eventually. Before I end, I would like to let it be known that the events of the past five months gave me an added perspective on matters of justice and injustice in Nigeria. I have come to know that the course of justice will not be complete if it stopped at my case. It must continue until it touches the lives of millions of Nigerians who face injustice anywhere in this world.

“I shall be dedicating my time henceforth to ensuring there will be justice for all Nigerians whether they are in Sokoto or Akwa Ibom or in Lagos or Maiduguri or in Jos or Enugu, or wherever they may be. Justice for one man or for a few people will no longer be enough in this country. A system whereby over 70% of all prison inmates’ population is made up of people awaiting trial cannot be allowed to continue. Situations, where innocent people are falsely charged with murder just to get them out of the way, do not dignify our country and cannot continue. Justice must now mean justice for all. That is my pledge to Nigerians. I look forward to rejoining my colleagues in the Senate as soon as possible.”

Orji Uzor Kalu Photo
Orji Uzor Kalu

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