Oronsaye: Judge Accused of Bias

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Stephen Oronsaye

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Justice Gabriel Kolawale intends to hands off the case involving Stephen Oronsaye, former head of service because the prosecutor insinuates that he is biased

JUSTICE Gabriel Kolawale of the Federal High Court, Abuja, is to return the case file of the trial of Stephen Oronsaye, former head of service, and his co-accused Osarenkhoe Afe, to the chief judge for reassignment over allegations of bias against him. Kolawole made this known during the trial proceedings on Tuesday, July 21 in Abuja where
Oronsaye and Afe are being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, for a N2 billion fraud.

The proceeding was for the hearing of the bail applications filed by Oronsaye and his co-accused, who are alleged to have been complicit in using two companies – Federick Hamilton Global Services Limited, and Xangee Technologies Limited, for shady biometrics enrolment deals to the tune of N2 billion.

Justice Kolawole had on July 13, 2015, released the accused persons to their counsel and fixed July 21, 2015, for hearing of the bail applications.

At the resumed sitting, prosecuting counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, told the court that it would be “extremely difficult for him to oppose the bail applications for the accused persons”, because in his view, “the act of the last sitting, in which Oronsaye was released by the judge was tantamount to being released on bail” such that it might amount to a futile effort to now try to oppose their bail applications. He said that it would be better in the instance to “focus on the conditions that would be attached to the bail”. He further noted that in the said bail application of Oronsaye, were already a list of sureties that could stand for the accused person, an indication that the accused person was sure of being granted bail.

However, Kanu Agabi, SAN, and counsel to Oronsaye, urged the court not to send his client to prison custody, as “our prisons are bad” and averred that “bail could be granted on self-recognizance”.

Also, Oluwole Aladedoye, counsel to Afe, who also represented the third accused, Fredrick Hamilton Global Services Limited, added that the second accused had since 2011 when investigations in the alleged fraud began, “never fled but honoured the invitations by the EFCC.”

A third accused person, Abdulrasheed Maina, former chairman of the Pension Task Team, who though not listed in the charge, but said to be at large, sent a lawyer, Esther Uzoma, to debunk the allegation that he was at large. Uzoma claimed that Maina never got any invitation from the EFCC to appear before it. “I came here to clear the perception that he is at large,” she said.

But Jacobs, insisted that Maina had been at large. “It is a good development. He (Maina) has not retired but he is not at his offices‎. He has been in Dubai,” he said.
Jacobs urged the judge to extract an undertaking from Uzoma to the effect that she would produce her client in court.

Justice Kolawole, in his ruling, expressed the view that the remarks of Jacobs, were in his view, tacitly alleging that he was biased and  “intended to intimidate the court”. The judge said: “I had wanted both defense and prosecution to come up with the terms of the bail, but the remarks of the prosecuting counsel that he will not oppose bail were in my view, intended to intimidate the court,” adding: “The accused persons were presumed innocent until the contrary is proven in a fair hearing.” He thereafter, granted bail to Oronsaye, in self recognisance, and ordered that his international passport be deposited with the chief registrar of the Federal High Court, Abuja.

His co-accused, was however, not so lucky. In addition to depositing his international passport with the court, the judge granted Afe bail in the sum of N50 million, two sureties each in like sum, who must be civil servants, retired or serving, either at federal or state government levels, not below Grade Level 16. One of the sureties, the judge said, must have a landed property within Abuja jurisdiction. The two sureties must produce evidence of tax payment for the past three years and show affidavit of means in event he jumps bail. He gave Afe and his counsel till July 24, 2015, to meet the bail conditions or be remanded in Kuje Prisons.

The case has been fixed for mention on October 5, “to ascertain which judge will hear it.”

— July 21, 2015 @ 11.00 GMT

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