Several hours after a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos ordered the immediate release of former Abia State Governor Orji Uzor Kalu, the senator was still in custody of the Nigerian Correctional Services (NCS) in Abuja last night.
The NCS stated that it was yet to get a valid court order to enable it effect the release of the one-time governor.
Its Public Relation Officer (PRO) Augustine Njoku said unless the court ruling is transmitted to the service, the former governor will remain in NCS custody.
Njoku said: “We cannot act on the basis of radio or television announcement on a Court order or ruling. The ruling will be communicated to us in form of warrant. This would be acknowledged and all other protocols and procedures would be followed.
“As things stand now, we are yet to be communicated. And unless this is done, he will remain with us.”
Asked for how long Kalu will be in the NSC custody, Njoku said “it depends on when the court reached the service with details of the ruling”.
He, however, added: “Hopefully within the next two days”.
Justice Mohammed Liman, who order Kalu’s release, set aside the fraud trial, conviction and 12-year prison sentence imposed on Kalu, now Senate Chief Whip, last December 5 by Justice Mohammed Idris.
He also quashed the conviction of Kalu’s firm, Slok Nigeria Ltd.
Justice Idris had ordered the winding up of Slok Nigeria Ltd and ordered that its assets be forfeited to the Federal Government.
Kalu was serving his jail term at the Kuje Correctional Service centre for looting N7.65 billion Abia State funds.
He was convicted of the offence alongside Slok and a former Director of Finance and Accounts at the Abia State Government House, Ude Jones Udeogu.
Their joint trial lasted for a cumulative 12 years at two separate Federal High Courts.
But, on May 8, 2020, the Supreme Court nullified Udeogu’s trial and conviction on the ground that the judge who handled the case, Justice Mohammed Idris, had no jurisdiction to do so.
The apex court allowed Udeogu’s appeal which contended that Idris, having been elevated to the Court of Appeal, had ceased to be a judge of the Federal High Court, at the time he passed judgment on Udeogu and Kalu.
The justices ordered Udeogu’s release and retrial.
Seeking to benefit from the highest court’s decision, Kalu filed an application contending that he was also entitled to be released.
The lawmaker’s counsel, Chief Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), yesterday prayed Justice Mohammed Liman to order the senator’s release based on the Supreme Court’s pronouncement in Udeogu’s appeal.
Fagbemi said: “Our application is brought pursuant to Section 159 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act.
“This is fallout of the Supreme Court decision delivered on the 8th of May.”
Although Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), did not, “in principle” oppose Fagbemi’s application, he made a prayer of his own.
Fagbemi said: “We are also urging the court that the order made by the Supreme Court for trial de novo should be complied with by all parties; so that Your Lordship will give us a date when arraignment will be done.
“We want the trial to go on; losing more time will be dangerous for us.”
Ruling, Justice Liman granted Kalu’s application as prayed, saying it had merit.
Justice Liman commended Jacobs, for his “practical approach” to the case by choosing not to oppose the application, thereby saving the court time and the rigour of listening to long argument.
He directed that steps should be taken for the commencement of trial afresh.