Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday refused an application by former Minister of Aviation Chief Femi Fani-Kayode to hold a private meeting in his chambers.
Fani-Kayode, through his lawyer Norrisson Quakers (SAN), had sought to meet with the judge in private to discuss certain issues pertaining to the case, which he said were not meant for the public.
Quakers, while arguing the application, said the “facts” he has could “embarrass” the judge should he say them openly.
He said the prosecution counsel should also be allowed to be present during the private meeting.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arraigned Fani-Kayode and former Minister of State for Finance, Senator Nenadi Usman, on a 17-count of laundering about N4.6 billion.
They pleaded not guilty.
The 17-count borders on conspiracy, unlawful retention of proceeds of theft and corruption and money laundering.
They were charge along with former National Chairman of the Association of Local Government of Nigeria (ALGON) and ex-Chairman of Kagarko Local Government Area of Kaduna State Mr. Yusuf Danjuma and a company said to belong to him, Jointrust Dimentions Nigeria Limited.
Quakers, who said he was just briefed by Fani-Kayode on Sunday evening, said he needed some time to study the case-file so as prepare adequately for his client’s defence.
He is taking over from Chief Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), who represented Fani-Kayode when he was arraigned.
Quakers said: “I’m coming into this matter for the first time. I was briefed yesterday (Sunday) evening. I need time to study the case.
“That aside, I had applied to enable I and the prosecution counsel to see the judge in chambers. It’s imperative that parties approach the court in chambers.
“It is our duty to protect the dignity of the court. The rules allow the court to hear certain applications in chambers. We owe it a duty to protect the court from embarrassment.
“I have at my possession facts that will assist the court to determine whether to proceed or not,” he said.
Usman’s lawyer Chief Ferdinand Orbih and Danjuma’s lawyer S. I. Ameh (SAN) did not oppose the application.
They urged court to give Quakers time to prepare for the case, having just been briefed.
But EFCC’s lawyer, Nkereuwem Anana, said while Fani-Kayode reserved the right to change counsel at any time, it should not impede trial.
Citing Section 396 (3) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, he said trial ought to be day-to-day once a defendant has been arraigned.
“Being briefed yesterday should not stop the trial. We have our witness in court and we are ready to proceed,” he said.
On the prayer to meet the judge in chambers, Anana said: “Everything should be done in open court. Nothing should be done in secret.”
He added that it was not a decision he would take on his own without his superiors’ approval.
Ruling, Justice Hassan adjourned until today to enable Quakers study the file.
He, however, refused the Senior Advocate’s application to meet him in chambers, urging him to file a formal application.
The judge said: “In respect of the application to meet the court in chambers, with respect to the learned Senior Advocate, this court will not oblige that request.
“Learned senior counsel is at liberty to file a formal application and forward his observations.
“In respect of his application for an adjournment, since learned senior counsel has just been briefed and is appearing for the first time in this matter, and this case was adjourned for three consecutive days for trial, on grounds of fair hearing, I will oblige him an adjournment to come back tomorrow (today) for continuation of trial.”
After the ruling, the judge joked that by virtue of his training, he had “shock absorber” and therefore could cope with whatever is said against him in open court.
Justice Hassan was a former federal prosecutor before his appointment as a judge. He worked at the Federal Ministry of Justice and was later seconded to the EFCC.
There was an indication that Quakers may ask the judge to disqualify himself.
Before the case was formerly called, Quakers had briefed the judge on his application.
He cited an instance of a Justice of the Court of Appeal, who withdrew from a case to avoid a conflict of interest because the judge had handled the case at the lower court before he was elevated to the appellate court.