By Innocent Anaba
The ongoing trial of the former governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, at the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court for alleged N2.2 billion fraud, was again stalled on Friday, as counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), told the court that his star witness contracted coronavirus.
The former governor and a firm, Spotless Investment Limited, were first arraigned on October 22, 2018 for alleged criminal breach of trust, theft and money laundering.
He was re-arraigned before Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke on July 2, 2019, after the case was withdrawn from Justice Mojisola Olatoregun, following EFCC’s petition.
At the resumed hearing on Friday, the EFCC counsel, who arrived the court more than 30 minutes behind schedule, causing the court to stand-down the matter, informed the court that he was only told on Thursday that his star witness had coronavirus.
The EFCC counsel said: “Last session, I assured the court that my witness will be coming into Nigeria from abroad. The witness is in Nigeria. He contracted COVID.
“I have been monitoring the progress of his health. He is the main witness in this matter. I only became aware of his status yesterday, but he is unable to make it to court as I was informed that he is still very frail.
“The other witnesses I have whom I have contacted to come are unavailable. I have only one in court today. I intend to call four more witnesses.
“The only available witness for me this morning was secured yesterday. We are only able to file her processes this morning, but I sent it to my colleagues for the defence yesterday. I did not know it would take so long for the main witness to recover from COVID.”
Responding, counsel to Fayose, Ola Olanipekun (SAN) said: “With regards to the witness he informed the court is available, as my learned friend said, an additional proof of evidence was filed this morning.
“An advance copy, which was not yet filed was forwarded through Whatsapp to my telephone yesterday at about 4pm just as I arrived the Murtala Mohammed Airport.
“The filed copy was served on us this morning shortly before my Lord came in. We have not had the opportunity of having the brief of the first defendant on the proposed testimony of this witness.
“In the circumstance of the learned prosecutor, this document ought to have gotten to us some days before this trial, which would have facilitated our preparation to take this witness.
“Considering the fact that we have just been served this morning, we cannot take any witness for granted. We need to converse with the first defendant to properly prepare to take this witness. In the circumstances, we are not ready.”
Also, counsel to the second defendant (Spotless Investments Limited), Olalekan Ojo (SAN), aligned with the submission of Olanipekun, counsel to Fayose.
Ojo said: “I associate myself with the position of the learned defence counsel for the first defendant. I also confirm that I received through WhatsApp documents the prosecution intended to file around 4pm yesterday
“I sincerely hope that my learned friend for the prosecution does not intend your lordship to regard that as service, as that will be service of a document yet to be filed.
“There is no correlation between not being able to produce that main witness and this additional proof of evidence filed in respect of an entirely new witness.
“In the circumstances, the defendants cannot be reasonably expected to be served with additional proof of evidence around 8.56am and be expected to start with any proceedings. Our inability to continue was foisted on the defence by the prosecution.
“On a last note, I concede that the statement of the witness is only a 6-page document, but it has to be read from the context of the entire case.
“We ought to hear from the defendants as they are masters of the facts. Thus, time is needed to interface with the defendants so they can provide necessary facts to guide us in the conduct of their defence.”
Reacting, Justice Aneke said to the EFCC counsel: “What is agitating me is that, granted that your main witness was abroad and caught in the circumstances as you said; what of this additional proof of evidence that you have just filed?
“This is an unusual period. The witness that ought to have come from that company was unavailable. This additional proof of evidence was an attempt to substitute a witness of the same company who is unavailable with the present witness.
“I believe my witnesses will be ready as from February. We are asking for a time that will be convenient for the court. We will be happy to have about two or three days in a row,” Jacobs responded.
The Fayose matter was consequently adjourned to January 28 and 29, March 18 and 19 and April 26, 27 and 28, 2021 for the continuation of trial.
On December 4, 2020, the EFCC counsel had informed the court that he was indisposed.
He prayed for adjournment and the court consequently adjourned the case until January 22 (today) for the continuation of trial.