The absence of Deputy Chief Registrar of the Federal High Court, Lagos, Bello Okandeji, on Monday stalled the trial of Rickey Tarfa (SAN) in an Igbosere High Court, Lagos.
Mr Tarfa had pleaded not guilty to a 26-count charge bordering on offering monetary gratification to two judges of the Federal High Court – Justices Hyeladzira Nganjiwa and Mohammed Yunusa.
The EFCC had in the charge claimed that between June 27, 2012 and January 8, 2016, Mr Tarfa paid N5.3 million in several tranches into Nganjiwa’s account.
Mr Tarfa was also accused of paying into Mr Yunusa’s account N800,000 in three tranches between February 9 and November 30, 2015.
The SAN was equally accused of age falsification.
Mr Okandeji, a defence witness, started testifying on May 7, as led in evidence by Mr Tarfa’s counsel, Jelili Owonikoko (SAN).
At the resumed hearing on Monday, the witness, who was to conclude his cross-examination, did not appear in court.
Mr Tarfa’s counsel told the court: “the witness is on subpoena, but was not in court.
“I understand that the Federal High Court has a function today. That may be why he is not here. I don’t really know.”
He also said that they intend to call two more witnesses.
Mr Owonikoko, however, asked for an adjournment to enable the witness complete his testimony.
After listening to the application, Justice Adedayo Akintoye, consequently ordered Mr Owonikoko to ensure that the remaining witnesses appeared in court on the next hearing date.
She adjourned the case until June 29 for continuation of trial. Mr Tarfa was first arraigned on March 9, 2016 and subsequent re-arraignment on Nov. 16, 2016.
He pleaded not guilty to the charge.
The EFCC had since closed its case, and Mr Tarfa opened his defence after the court dismissed his no-case submission.
Mr Okandeji, during his examination-in-chief, said he knew Mr Tarfa very well as one of the counsel who appeared before the Federal High Court in Lagos on a daily basis.
He also told the court that only the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court and the administrative judges in different divisions of the court were in charge of assignment of cases to judges.
Under cross-examination by Rotimi Oyedepo, the prosecutor, Mr Okandeji said he was aware that the National Judicial Council had sent a letter to President Muhammadu Buhari, recommending Mr Yunusa for dismissal, “but the president has yet to sign it”.
When asked whether constant private communications between a judge and a lawyer who has a case before him was part of the court’s policy, Mr Okandeji answered, “My Lord, it is not in our rule”
He also affirmed that the court’s rule did not permit a serving judge to open and maintain a bank account in the name of a company.
He affirmed also that it was improper for a judge to recommend a lawyer to a defendant before him and receive payment for the services.
He further affirmed that if the Chief Judge or the administrative judge was aware of the relationship between Messrs Tarfa and Yunusa, he would not have assigned Mr Tarfa’s cases to the judge. (NAN)