The trial of former Chairman, Pension Reform Task Team, Abdulrasheed Maina, charged with 12 counts bordering on “money laundering, operating fictitious bank accounts and fraud,” was stalled on Tuesday due to his ill health.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that Maina was, on October 25, arraigned alongside a firm, Common Input Property and Investment Ltd, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission before Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
NAN reports that while Maina is the first defendant in the case, the company was the second defendant.
Though Maina pleaded ‘not guilty’ to all the charges, Justice Abang ordered him to be remanded in the Kuje Correctional Service Centre pending the hearing and determination of his bail application.
NAN reports that on Monday, the court also adjourned until Tuesday to take Maina’s application seeking an abridgment of time to hear his bail application earlier fixed for November 19 and also for continuation of evidence by the prosecution’s first witness.
However, when the matter was called on Tuesday, Maina was not in court.
Neither the prosecution counsel nor the defence counsel could explain the reason for his absence, until an official of the Nigerian Correctional Service signaled to the judge indicating that he had a letter for the court.
Justice Abang, who later read the letter, informed the court that the content of the letter says: “The first defendant is indisposed, unable and not fit to appear in court but would do so when his condition improves.”
He said the letter was signed by one Idowu Ajayi, a medical officer at the Nigerian Correctional Service Centre.
The judge did not reveal the nature of Maina’s sickness.
However, NAN reports that Maina had, at the proceedings of October 30, alleged that Justice Abang had, during the sitting of October 25, aggravated his blood pressure by his remarks on him.
“My Lord, the 1st defendant told me I should tell the court, on his behalf, that on October 25 of this month, he was before the court and while the court was on, the court asked him not to look at him.
“And he wondered why he should not look at him since he was not the only one that appeared before the court that day,” Maina’s counsel, Joe Gadzama, SAN, had said.
Gadzama said as a result of the judge’s remark, Maina told him that his high blood pressure rose astronomically, and he felt so bad with the comment as if he had been convicted already.
Maina consequently sought the indulgence of the court if the case could be reassigned to another judge.
Justice Abang, after reading the letter, however expressed concern that the letter did not disclose in particular when Maina would be able to resume his trial.
Reacting, a lawyer in Maina’s legal team, Francis Oronsanye, prayed the court to adjourn the matter till next week when he believed Maina would have fully recuperated to stand trial.
Corroborating the argument, counsel to the 2nd defendant, Adeola Adedipe, aligned himself with the submission of Maina’s lawyer.
However prosecution counsel, Mohammed Abubakar, opposed the request that trial be adjourned till next week, expressing doubt on the truthfulness of the letter.
He gave an instance of a case in Adamawa State High Court where the then Nigerian Prison Service had to disown a medical report emanating from a medical doctor in the employment of the service as reason for expressing a doubt.
Abubakar, therefore, prayed the court to make an order that the Deputy Comptroller General of the Nigerian Correctional Service in charge of Medical and Welfare, who is a medical doctor, should personally examine Maina and make a report on his health condition to the court.
He submitted that since the letter did not say specifically when Maina would be fit to continue the trial and since the trial was earlier fixed for Nov. 4, Nov 5, Nov. 6 and Nov. 7, the court could vacate the sitting of Nov. 6 and resume on Nov. 7.
Justice Abang, who ruled on the arguments, adjourned till Nov. 7 for the continuation of trial.
The judge held that adjournment was at the discretion of the court and not based on the medical report, which according to him, was not helpful as it did not disclose when Maina would be able to resume his trial.
He also ordered that the Deputy Comptroller General of the Nigerian Correctional Service in charge of Medical and Welfare to personally examine Maina and make the report available to the court on the next proceedings.
The court also adjourned till Nov. 7 for ruling on Maina’s bail application.
Justice Abang fixed the date shortly after counsel to the prosecution adopted and argued his brief in opposition to the bail.
Though counsel to Maina had refused to adopt and argue the motion on grounds that they were yet to get access to the first defendant who had been in Correctional Service custody since his arraignment on Oct. 25, Justice Abang however held that the application is deemed adopted and argued by the first defendant.
He held that the failure of the defendant’s lawyer to meet with their client should not be blamed on the court since they never informed the court of any challenge in meeting with their client.