The Federal Government again on Thursday stalled the commencement of the trial of a former Minister of Niger Delta, Godsday Orubebe, with a proposal to amend the four counts of N70m bribery and false asset declaration preferred against him.
Earlier on November 9, the prosecution had asked for two weeks to prepare its witnesses when asked to commence the trial shortly after the accused pleaded not guilty to the four counts.
The Danladi Umar-led tribunal had then adjourned till Thursday for the commencement of trial.
On Thursday, however, the prosecution, led by Mr. Peter Danladi, rather than call its first witness, proposed to orally amend counts two, three and four, an application which the defence lawyer, Mr. Selekowei Larry (SAN), opposed.
Danladi, while applying for the amendment of the charges, cited section 216 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, which he said allowed the prosecution to amend or alter the charges it filed at any time before judgment was delivered.
He said, “The matter was adjourned till today for hearing. But before we proceed, we are applying to amend counts two, three and four.
“The application is brought pursuant to section 216 of the ACJ Act and pursuant to the inherent jurisdiction of this honourable tribunal.”
The prosecuting counsel was about to give details of his proposed amendment when Larry raised an objection.
In opposing the application, Larry said it could only be done through motion on notice and not orally.
He said, “This is a serious business. You can’t just jump up and say you want to amend the charges. You have to notify us about what you want to do. You have to do it through a motion on notice. You cannot come and take us by surprise. We have to know what you are doing.
“This is a court of record. Whatever they (prosecution) want to do, let them do it properly by way of a motion on notice.”
In response, Danladi said the use of the word, “any time” in section 216 of the ACJ Act showed that an application for amendment of charges by prosecution could be done orally.
While the tribunal chairman agreed that the prosecution had the right to amend the charges as it wished, it needed to put the defence on notice.
Danladi then asked for two weeks to file the necessary processes for the amendment.
Umar noted that since the year was already winding up, the tribunal would only be able to entertain the case in January.
The matter was then adjourned till January 27, 2016.
Orubebe, in counts one and two of the charges preferred against him, was accused of failure to declare his assets at Plot 2722, Kyamu and Plot 2059 in Asokoro District both in Abuja on assumption of office as a minister on September 26, 2007.
In count three, he was accused of accepting a N50m bribe from one Pastor Jonathan Alota on September 19, 2012 for the award of a contract in favour of his (Alota’s) company, Chemtronics Nigeria Limited.
In count four, he allegedly accepted additional N20m bribe from Alota in 2013 for the award of a contract to Chemtronics Nigeria Limited for the construction of a N1.8bn skill acquisition centre in Edo State.
Orubebe is said to have committed the offence of false asset declaration under section 15 of Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act Cap C15 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004.
The arraignment of the former minister took place on November 9 amid a solidarity jamboree by a large number of his supporters, who were restricted to the gate of the tribunal in Jabi, Abuja.
The supporters, with a band that played outside the gate throughout the period the proceedings lasted, gave Orubebe a heroic welcome as he arrived for the proceedings.