A mild drama occured at the Federal High Court, Abuja on Wednesday during the trial of a 30-year-old pharmacist, Solomon Akuma.
Akuma is standing trial on a trumped-up charge bordering on terrorism after he was arrested over a Twitter comment against President Muhammadu Buhari.
He is being prosecuted after his arrest on April 2, 2020, in Abia State for tweeting that he would “pay a Russian sniper to eliminate (President Muhammadu) Buhari and (Abba) Kyari (Buhari’s former Chief of Staff)” in response to a Twitter post asking “if $1m hits your account, your next move?”
The defendant on Wednesday asked the trial judge, Justice Folashade Giwa-Ogunbanjo to disqualify herself from the case over alleged bias.
Akuma told the court through his lawyer, Emmanuel Ukaegbu that he no longer has confidence in the court presided over by Giwa-Ogunbanjo and would not get justice.
He, therefore, asked her to recuse herself from the case.
The matter was abruptly adjourned when the defence counsel told the court that they had filed a petition before the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court alleging bias on the part of the Giwa-Ogunbanjo.
He said there were a lot of statutory and constitutional issues that had happened since the judge delivered her judgement in the matter on November 22, 2021 which may not allow them to get justice in the case.
He said they had lost confidence in her and would like her to recuse herself from the case.
Ukaegbu said, “After your judgement in this matter on the 22nd November 2021, a lot of things have transpired in respect of this matter, both statutory and constitutional issues that prevent your Lordship from continuing with this case.
“The defendant has petitioned the chief judge; he has filed a petition before the chief judge, alleging bias and we want an adjournment to enable the chief judge to consider that petition.
“Since he is alleging bias, he doesn’t want this case to be handled by this court.
“The presiding judge, while responding, said, “If you filed a petition, it is a good thing you brought it to my attention.
“Sincerely, confidence is the root of justice and that is the truth. So, if this defendant does not want this court to hear the matter anymore, even I am happy to yield the matter for another court to hear it.
“Since you have brought it to the attention of the court that you wrote a petition to the chief judge of the Federal High Court if you have done that, I think it is the best to wait and abide by whatever the chief judge decides.
“But I can tell you upfront that if you do not want me to hear the matter anymore, I must not continue to hear a matter if a defendant says he doesn’t want a court to hear his matter if he is alleging bias.
“But I can assure you that I am not biased against the defendant. I have taken decisions to the best of my capacity as a judicial official but if you think that I am biased against the defendant and you don’t want me to continue with the matter, I will just wait and hear what the chief judge says about it.
“I will adjourn the matter for that reason.”
The matter was therefore adjourned to April 4, 2022, to allow the chief judge to consider the said petition for further action in the case.
The judge while delivering her judgement in November 2021 had struck out the case on the ground that it was defective and that there was no valid charge before the court.
She also held that the case was not diligently prosecuted.
But the judge failed to order the discharge of the defendant from prison custody.
Giwa-Ogunbanjo had also on December 17, 2021, ruled against the application for discharge of the defendant from the prison filed by his lawyer but granted the application for amendment of charge, which was filed by the prosecution.
The judge also made several attempts to force the defendant to take his plea even when the defendant insisted that he had not seen the amended charge.
The visibly angry judge had also threatened to jail the defence counsel for contempt of court in the ensued argument when he insisted that his client would not take the plea.
The defence lawyer had insisted that even the entire day would not be enough for him and his client to go through the amended charge.