Orji Kalu sets for retrial as Supreme Court nullifies conviction after months in prison
The Supreme Court has voided the conviction of Former Governor of Abia State Orji Kalu after spending about five months in prison.
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos had in December 2019 convicted Kalu of a 39-count charge pressed against him by the Economic and Economic Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), including a N7.1 billion fraud during his eight-year tenure as governor of Abia State.
Kalu, who is currently the Senate Chief Whip, was consequently sentenced to 12 years in prison.
In March, the embattled former governor had approached a Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja to challenge his conviction but Justice Olabisi Ige had upheld the judgemet.
But in its ruling on Friday, the Supreme Court dismissed the judgement which convicted Kalu and ordered a retrial of the accused and his co-defendants.
Delivering the judgement, a panel of seven Justices led by Amina Augie held that the conviction of Kalu was void as the trial judge, Mohammed Liman, lacked the jurisdiction to hear the case.
The apex court also held that Liman, who heard the case, lacked the authority to preside over the trial then as he had already been elevated to the Appeal Court as of the time of the ruling.
Reacting to the judgement, Kalu stated the development has further reaffirmed his belief and confidence in the Nigerian project as well as its justice system.
He said: “I want to use this moment to thank my family, my colleagues, my friends, my supporters, the people of Abia State, and all Nigerians for their unflinching and unwavering confidence and trust in me through the very testing period. We all know today that their prayers have not been in vain.
“I also use this opportunity to express my gratitude to the Nigerian Correctional Service for the unalloyed professionalism and sincere humanity extended to me by its staff while I was in their custody.
“I must accord a special mention to the Justices of our Supreme Court for their unwavering commitment to rule of law. We all stand reminded of the consistent and strategic relevance of the Nigerian Supreme Court in holding this country together, even in moments of great peril. As far back as in the 1971 case of LAKANMI V. ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE FEDERATION, (the Ademola Adetokumbo-led Court) the Nigerian Supreme Court has severally rescued this country from the precipice.
“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.
“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.
“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 does not dignify our country and cannot continue.
“Justice must now mean justice for all. That is my pledge to Nigerians.”
Meanwhile, the EFCC has revealed that the former governor would face immediate prosecution for money laundering following the reversal of his earlier conviction by the apex court.
In a statement issued through its spokesman, Dele Oyewale, few hours after the judgement, the EFCC described the Supreme Court’s ruling as “a technical ambush against the trial of the former governor.”
The statement read: ”The attention of the Economic And Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has been drawn to the judgment of the Supreme Court nullifying the trial of a former governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu , his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited and Jones Udeogu, a former Director of Finance and Account of Abia State Government and ordering their fresh trial at the lower court.
“The apex court based its verdict on the grounds that Justice Mohammed Idris, who convicted Kalu and others had been elevated to the Court of Appeal before the judgment and returned to the lower court to deliver the judgment which it considered as illegal.
“The EFCC considers the judgment of the apex court as quite unfortunate. It is a technical ambush against the trial of the former governor.
“The Commission is prepared for a fresh and immediate trial of the case because its evidences against Kalu and others are overwhelming. The corruption charges against Kalu still subsist because the Supreme Court did not acquit him of them. The entire prosecutorial machinery of the EFCC would be launched in a fresh trial where justice is bound to be served in due course.”