Former governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, on Friday got a huge reprieve as Nigeria’s Supreme Court nullified his trial, alongside two others, who were convicted with him and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for a N7.1bn fraud.
Justice Ejembi Eko, who delivered the lead judgment, held that the provision of section 396(7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, on which the then President of the Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Bulkachuwa (retd), relied on to authorise Justice Idris to return to the Court of Appeal to conclude the trial, was unconstitutional.
Recall that Justice Mohammed Idris, who had been elevated to the Court of Appeal bench, had returned to the Federal High Court in Lagos to complete the case which started in 2007.
The judge ultimately convicted and sentenced the ex-governor to 12 years imprisonment for the fraud he allegedly perpetrated during his tenure as Abia State governor.
However, the apex court panel, led by Justice Olabode Rhodes-Vivour, unanimously nullified the entire trial, saying that the constitution does not permit a judge elevated to a higher court to return to a lower court to conclude a part-heard case.
The panel therefore directed the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to assign the case to another judge of the court for the trial to commence afresh.
Kalu, was in December convicted and sentenced to 12 years imprisonment, alongside his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited, and Jones Udeogu, who served under him as the Director of Finance and Account while he was governor.
The former governor, now a senator, has been in prison since then.