The planned reshuffling or transfer of judges of the Federal High Court, by the court’s Chief Judge, Justice John Tsoho, has led to loss of time in the prosecution of many notable cases in the court.
The affected cases include the money laundering trial of Abdullahi Babalele and Uyiekpen Giwa-Osagie, son-in-law and lawyer, respectively to former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar.
Also affected is the cyber fraud trial of a Lebanese, Hamza Koudeih, believed to be an ally of popular Instagram personality, Mompha.
In the category is also the money laundering trial of a former Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji.
The Federal High Court has an annual traditional of transferring its judges from one state to another at the beginning of every year.
In line with this tradition, the Chief Judge issued a circular early this year, directing all judges of the court not to open new cases as they might be transferred.
But since the circular was issued early in the year, nothing was heard again for months, while judges keep adjourning cases in anticipation of the transfer.
Eventually, in a circular dated July 13, 2020, the Chief Judge announced the suspension of the planned transfer and directed that “judges should attend to all cases pending before them.”
However, the judges are scheduled to proceed on their annual leave next Monday, July 26.
In the case of Babalele and Giwa-Osagie, it is already 11 months since their arraignment and not much progress has been made.
When the case came up on January 20, Justice C.J Aneke, sitting in Lagos, said he could not proceed to trial in the case, citing the planed transfer.
Safe for February 13 when the judge granted permission to Babalele for a foreign trip, the case has not come up again.
Similarly, on March 18, Justice Mohammed Liman, sitting in Lagos, adjourned Ikuforiji’s trial by six months till September 30, citing the transfer circular.
The prosecuting counsel for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Mr Ekene Iheanacho, who travelled from Abuja to Lagos for the botched trial, had expressed displeasure with the turn of events, noting that he had only two witnesses to call in the case.
It was the same way that Justice Muslim Hassan, also in Lagos, on February 24, declined opening trial in the case of the alleged Lebanese cyber fraudster, Koudeih.
The matter, however, resumed on July 9, about nine months after Koudeih and his co-defendant, Kayode Philip, alias Voice of the King, were arraigned before Justice Hassan.
In the July 13 circular, announcing the suspension of the planned judges’ transfer “until further notice”, the Chief Judge said the development was “in view of difficulties and uncertainties brought about by the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
He directed all judges to attend to all pending cases before them, but this will not happen until the judges return from their annual vacation in September.