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Supreme Court Nullifies Corruption Trial and Conviction of ex-Governor Orji Uzor Kalu

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The Supreme Court on Friday, May 8, overturned the judgment of a Federal High Court, which convicted Senate Chief Whip and former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu. According to the unanimous judgment of the Supreme Court delivered by Justice Ejembi Eko, the declaration of the judgment as a nullity was on the ground that Justice Mohammed Idris who delivered the judgment was already sworn in as a Justice of the Court of Appeal at the time and so could not act in the capacity of a judge of the High Court. The Supreme Court directed that the case be reassigned for trial.

It will be recalled that in December 2019, after 12 years at trial, Kalu was convicted  of fraud to the tune of N7.56bn and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. Mr. Ude Udeogu, who had served as Director of Finance in the Abia State Government House during Kalu’s administration as Governor of Abia State was also sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. However, with the judgment of the Supreme Court, Mr. Udeogu’s conviction has also been set aside.

Justice Mohammed who was elevated to the Court of Appeal while he was yet to conclude the  trial  of the case, relied on section 396(7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015, which provides for a judge  of the High Court who has been elevated to the Court of Appeal to continue to sit as a High Court judge for the purpose of concluding  partly-heard criminal matters pending before him before his elevation, on the condition that it does not prevent him from assuming duty as a Justice of the appellate court. There are arguments that the Supreme Court’s decision to void the judgment in question constitutes a technicality which defeats  efforts made towards fighting corruption. However, some observers have countered to say that the provision of the ACJA is inconsistent with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999 (as amended). The Constitution provides for the appointment of judicial officers, their powers and the jurisdiction of each court it establishes. While it does not expressly prohibit a judge of a High Court from concluding cases in that capacity after elevation to the Court of Appeal, the Supreme Court has interpreted the provisions of the Constitution to this effect.