The trial of former Oyo State Governor Rashidi Ladoja was aborted yesterday after Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court in Lagos insisted that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) must comply with the law.
Eight years after he was first arraigned, EFCC re-arraigned Ladoja for allegedly converting N4.7billion from the state treasury to his personal use.
He was charged along with Waheed Akanbi on eight counts of money laundering and unlawful conversion of public funds.
Prosecution counsel Femi Olabisi called his first witness, an EFCC investigator, Abdullahi Lawal.
As Lawal was about to begin his testimony, Ladoja’s lawyer Bolaji Onilenle and Akanbi’s lawyer Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika objected on the basis that he was not listed as a witness.
Onilenle said: “His name is not on the list of witnesses. We are surprised. Section 379 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 mandates the prosecution to make a list of witnesses available to defendants.”
Olumide-Fusika said he has no idea what the witness was going to say and was not prepared to cross-examine him.
“EFCC ought to be ready before bringing us to court. It must be ready before arraignment,” he said.
Olabisi apologised, saying the case was prepared before the ACJA came into effect.
He sought for more time to “put his house in order”.
The counsel asked that the dates previously fixed for the trial, including today and tomorrow, be vacated.
Adebisi said some of his witnesses were in Abuja, Kaduna and Port Harcourt, so he would need time to prepare their statements.
Although the defence counsel said Lawal could testify to save time, Justice Mohammed Idris said it would be better for the prosecution to comply with the law.
He said: “Section 379 is mandatory. We’ll go with speed but in accordance with the law. Let’s do it within the ambit of the law. Let’s not overlook the issue and proceed.
“The prosecution should ensure that a summary of the issues and list of witnesses are made available to the defence before trial commences.”
Ladoja was first arraigned before Justice A.R. Mohammed in 2008, but he objected to the charge.
He obtained a stay of proceedings after filing an interlocutory appeal, which was dismissed by the Supreme Court.
The EFCC accused Ladoja and Akanbi of converting N1,932,940,032.48 belonging to Oyo to their personal use through the Guaranty Trust Bank (GTB) account of a company, Heritage Apartments Limited.
The prosecution said Ladoja removed £600,000 (about N240,219,945) from the state coffers in 2007 and sent it to Bimpe Ladoja in London.
Ladoja also allegedly bought a N42million armoured Toyota Land Cruiser using public funds.
EFCC said he converted N728,600,000 and another N77,850,000 in 2007, and allegedly transferred N77, 850,000 to Bistrum Investments, which he nominated to help him buy a property, Quarter 361, in Ibadan.
Ladoja and Akanbi pleaded not guilty.
Justice Idris adjourned till March 1 for trial.