Posted by By James Dadzie and Olanrewaju Olusesi on
A TENSED atmosphere enveloped the Ikeja High Court yesterday as Mr. Wale Adesokan, Counsel to Fred Ajudua, dramatically announced his intention to withdraw from the $1,698,538 million fraud case brought against his client by the Federal Government.
In return, the presiding judge, Justice Joseph Oyewole accused Adesokan of blackmail, saying: "I don't want to give the impression that any counsel can intimidate the court."
Ajudua, a lawyer and one Charles Ovie were arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on May 30, 2003 in the Federal Government renewed its clampdown on Advance Fee Fraud (or 419) perpetrators.
The dramatic development came seconds after, Justice Oyewole had rejected an oral application for an adjournment brought by Adesokan and ordered that the prosecution should continue with its case.
Two British Police Officers, Messrs Barry Bryan and Paul Blumson, who arrived in Lagos four days ago, were in court to testify for the prosecution under tight security mounted by about a dozen armed mobile policemen.
Before they could mount the witness box, however, Adesokan complained that he would be doing injustice to his client if he continued with the case because he had not been able to digest, read or confront his client with a 31-page document which the prosecution served on him earlier in the day, despite a 90-minute stand-down of the case.
He said the overriding consideration ought to be fair trial, justice to the accused, justice to the prosecution and justice to the entire society.
"I will not in my conscience, properly defend the accused person now. So, I would like to withdraw", Adesokan told the court.
The Court accordingly granted the request.
Adesokan said that although he was aware that the court had ordered an accelerated hearing, he would be sacrificing justice for speedy hearing if he agreed to a continuation of the trial yesterday.
He alleged that the new 31-page document had entirely altered the charge; that the character of the case had changed completely and that "it will prejudice the first accused (Ajudua) if I should continue with the case today."
Insisting on his right for an adjournment to enable him study the document, Adesokan cited Section 164(3) of the Criminal Procedure Law (CPL).
But the leading prosecution counsel, Mr. Oluwemimo Ogunde disagreed with Adesokan that the character of the case had changed.
"Our case remains the same; all we have done is to bring documents to show that the accused lived in London at one time, contrary to his claim that he was never in London." He submitted.
Ogunde, leading Mr. Wahab Shittu and other counsel for the prosecution, told the court that it would be cost the country a colossal sum to bring back the two witnesses whom he had brought from England at a huge cost.
Soon after Adesokan had withdrawn his representation, the accused, Ajudua, himself a lawyer told the Court that he needed time to get a counsel of his choice before the case could go on.
"My Lord, it is my constitutional right that I get a counsel of my choice. It is trite that I have a counsel of my choice and I will need an adjournment to do that or possibly convince my lawyer (Adesokan) to continue representing me", Ajudua pleaded.
Ogunde later conceded to the defendants' application for an adjournment saying: "At this, I will concede to the adjournment. We want to ensure that the integrity of the Court is not impinged upon in any way".
Before adjourning the proceedings to September 23, 2003, Justice Oyewole said: "I raised the issue of blackmail because you (Adesokan) as a very senior member of the Bar, know that withdrawal is not the only option open to you. I will record that you are likely to reconsider your decision to withdraw from the case".