Justice Saliu Saidu of the Federal High Court in Lagos on Friday told parties in the ongoing trial of Innoson Nigeria Limited, Innocent Chukwuma and four others over falsification of shipping document and N2.4 billion fraud that he will not submit to intimidation from anyone on the case.
Justice Saidu said in response to an application filed by one of the defendants in the case asking him to recuse himself from the case over allegation of bias.
The judge, however, maintained that he would not “chicken out” of the suit simply because a parties says so, but will rather wait for an application to be moved in that respect.
The Nigerian Customs Service is accusing the defendants of falsified shipping documents, which they deposited with Guaranty Trust Bank Plc as collateral for the sum of N2.4 billion.
In the four count charge numbered FHC/L/565C/1, other defendants are: Innosson Nig. Ltd, Innocent Chukwuma, Charles Chukwu, Maximian Chukwura, Mitsui Osk Lines ‘C’ and Anajekwu Sunny.
When the case was called on Friday, the prosecutor, J.I Ajakaiye sought to withdraw a counter affidavit and written address he had filed he had filed in reply to an application challenging the charge, on the ground that he had fresh applications.
This prayer was not opposed by defence lawyers but counsel to the first accused George Uwechue (SAN) informed the court that he was yet to respond to the application.
It was at the point that one of the defence counsel, Nnabueze Mbadugha reminded the court that there is a pending application before the court, asking it to recuse itself from the case.
Mbadugha submitted that once there is such application, no further action is required to be taken by the court who is only expected to step aside.
The lawyer insisted that once the partiality of a court has been questioned, it offends the sensibilities of fairness and justice for the court to continue to entertain further proceedings.
Quoting the Latin maxim, “Nemo judex in causa sua” Mbadugha submitted that it was a serious error for the judge to seek to entertain applications in respect of the same case.
According to him, the said Latin maxim simply postulates that one cannot be a judge in his own case.
He therefore, urged the court to recuse itself from taking further steps in the case.
In a short ruling, Justice Saidu held that defence counsel had not moved any application before him, urging it to disqualify itself.
The judge added that he would not “chicken out” of the suit simply because a parties says so, but will rather wait for an application to be moved in that respect.
He held: “It is the duty of the court to rule on an application after it has been heard and not to chicken out because a party does not want it to preside over it.
“Judges are not to submit to intimidation of parties; I am yet to hear any such application before me and so, I will not recuse myself now, until I hear the application,”
The judge has fixed January 26 for further hearing.
In the charge, the accused were alleged to have conspired to commit the offence on Oct. 10, 2013 at Apapa Wharf.
The prosecution alleged that the accused falsified shipping documents, which they deposited with Guaranty Trust Bank Plc as collateral for the sum of N2.4 billion.
The loan facility was alleged to have been granted Innosson Nig. Ltd
The shipping document was also said to have been falsely presented as genuine and with intent to defraud, in order to clear goods worth N2.4 billion.
According to the charge, the offence contravened the provisions of sections 1(2) (c), and 3(6) of the Miscellaneous offence Act, Cap M17, Laws of the Federation 2004.