Justice Adebukola Banjoko, of a High Court in Gudu, Abuja, in the Federal Capital Territory, yesterday withdrew from the $620,000 bribery charges instituted against a former Chairman, House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy Regime, Mr. Farouk Lawan.
Lawan is being prosecuted along with his secretary in the committee, Boniface Emenalo, by the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC).
Justice Banjoko voluntarily bowed out of the case yesterday and ordered the case file to be returned to the FCT Chief Judge, Justice Ibrahim Bukar, despite the withdrawal of an application filed by Lawan, requesting her to quit the case.
The judge said, in her ruling, that though the application had been withdrawn and the Chief Judge had cleared her of the allegation in Lawan’s petition against her, the allegation was a “scandalous challenge” of her integrity.
“In my 17 years on the bench – six years and as a magistrate and 11 years as a judge – I have never been confronted with a scandalous challenge of my integrity,” the judge said.
Lawan’s counsel, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), who had filed the application dated October 29, 2014, asking the judge to quit the case, announced its withdrawal at yesterday’s proceedings.
Apart from the application, Lawan had also personally petitioned the FCT Chief Judge, accusing Justice Banjoko of likely bias based on an alleged close relationship between her and the Chairman, Zenon
Petroleum and Gas Ltd, Mr. Femi Otedola, who is a proposed witness and the accuser in the case.
Ozekhome, who had earlier denied knowledge of the petition written by Lawan, had filed the application, asking the judge to disqualify herself from further handling the case based on his client’s allegation.
However, Ozekhome made a U-turn on the application on Tuesday as he withdrew it and pleaded with the judge to overlook the wrong impression, which the application and his client’s petition must have created.
The prosecuting counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), also apologised on behalf of the accused person and urged the judge to continue with the case.
But the judge refused to accede to the request of both parties, even as she denied the allegation that she and her family were close to Otedola.
In the prevailing circumstances, I do find it difficult to continue this case. This case is returned to the honourable Chief Judge for re-assignment,” Justice Banjoko ruled.
The case, when re-assigned, will be handled by the third judge since the case commenced on February 1, 2013, when they were first arraigned on seven counts of bribery.
The accused persons were re-arraigned before Justice Banjoko on June 11, 2014, following the elevation of the former trial judge, Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi, to the Court of Appeal.
Lawan and Emenalo are being prosecuted by the ICPC, for allegedly collecting $620,000 in the course of performing the committee’s duty in 2012.
They were accused of collecting the bribe in April 2012 from Otedola, in order to remove his companies’ names from the list of firms indicted by the committee.