Court fixes June 27 for definite arraignment of ex-Gov Yahaya Bello

  • As defence apologizes for not producing Yahaya Bello

A Federal high court sitting in Abuja has fixed June 27, 2024 for definite arraignment of a former Governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello.

The trial high court fixed the date following the absence of the ex-governor in court owing to miscommunication between the prosecution and the defence counsel.

Mr Bello, 48, who left office as governor on 27 January, faces 19 counts of money laundering, which the EFCC filed against him.

But the arraignment had stalled on 18 April, 23 April and 10 May due to Mr Bello’s repeated absence from court.

Due to the defendant’s absence for the second time, on 23 April, the judge granted EFCC’s permission to serve Mr Bello through substituted means.

He directed the agency’s prosecutor, Kemi Pinheiro, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), to serve Mr Bello through his lawyer, Abdulwahab Mohammed, dispensing with the general legal requirement for personal service in criminal cases.

The judge ordered the EFCC to serve the charges with the accompanying proof of evidence and other documents on the defence lawyer.

Subsequently, on 10 May, the judge rejected an application by the former governor seeking an order to halt his trial pending an appeal regarding his trial.

Following the court’s refusal to halt his trial, Mr Bello, through his lawyer, pledged to turn himself in for arraignment.

His lawyer, Mr Mohammed, undertook to provide his client before the court on 13 June (Thursday) for arraignment.

But the arraignment stalled again on Thursday due to Mr Bello’s absence.

The development forced the judge to adjourn the arraignment.

Before rescheduling the proceedings, a disagreement ensued between the defence and the prosecuting lawyers over Mr Bello’s anticipated court appearance on Thursday.

Defence lawyer Adeola Adedipe, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), told the court that EFCC’s lead counsel, Kemi Pinheiro, also a SAN, requested a new date because the 13 June date was not convenient for him.

But the prosecuting lawyer who appeared for the case on Thursday, Rotimi Oyedepo, a SAN, denied any request for a new arraignment date.

He said the defence team’s claim was “a desperate attempt to describe the prosecution team as one whose house is scattered.”

“We were all here, and the record of my Lord will show that the matter was adjourned in an open court and on record,” Mr Oyedepo added.

He recalled that the defence made an undertaking to produce the defendant Thursday.

“So, my Lord, assuming that there was any conversation between the defence and the prosecution to adjourn the matter, the main issue of today is the appearance of the defendant, but they refused to bring him to court.

“Instead of admitting to this, he is bringing the prosecution into it. I’m appealing that the court should not entertain any application from them till they bring the defendant or show where he is and stop blaming us and the officers of the court,” he said.

He also asked the defence team to apologise to the prosecution for not producing the defendant in court in line with their undertaking.

Meanwhile, Mr Adedipe apologised to the court and the prosecution, taking responsibility for any misrepresentation that could have led to Mr Bello’s absence from court.

He then suggested 27 June as a new date for arraignment.

Mr Oyedepo accepted the apology.

He urged the court to capture the defence lawyer’s apology in the court’s record and compel the defence team to produce Mr Bello for the rescheduled arraignment.

After listening to both lawyers, Justice Emeka Nwite adjourned the matter till 27 June 27 for Mr Bello’s arraignment.

In the charges, EFCC accused him, his nephew Ali Bello, Dauda Suleiman and Abdulsalam Hudu (said to still be at large) of conspiring to convert the total sum of N80.2 billion public funds to personal use in February 2016.

The commission alleged that Mr Bello and others “reasonably ought to have known” that the money “forms part of the proceeds of your unlawful activity” – criminal breach of trust.

EFCC also alleged in another count that Mr Bello, between 26 July 2021 and 6 April 2022 in Abuja, aided a firm, E-Traders International Limited, to conceal the aggregate sum of over N3 billion (N3,081,804,654) in account number 1451458080 domiciled in Access Bank Plc.

The anti-graft agency has faced difficulties bringing Mr Bello to court for arraignment.

Earlier on 17 April, the judge issued a warrant of arrest against the former governor.

However, an attempt by EFCC operatives to arrest Mr Bello based on the arrest warrant that day was obstructed by the police officers attached to his house at Wuse Zone 4, Abuja.

The anti-graft agency has since declared Mr Bello wanted.

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