Embattled former governor of Abia State, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu, who is currently the Chief Whip of the Senate, has asked the Federal High Court in Lagos to order his release from prison. Kalu, who is in remand at the Kuje Custodial Center, in processes he filed through his team of lawyers on Thursday, argued that no legal base exists for his continued incarceration since the Supreme Court had in a judgement last Friday, quashed the conviction and 12 years jail term that was earlier handed to him. He, therefore, prayed the high court to in line with the judgement of the apex court that ordered retrial of his case, set-aside the entire proceedings that led to his imprisonment.
Confirming the development to Vanguard Thursday night, a member of Kalu’s legal team who pleaded anonymity, further disclosed that the ex-governor had also approached the Court of Appeal in Lagos to discontinue the appeal he filed to challenge his previous conviction.
It will be recalled that Kalu was on December 5, 2019, convicted alongside his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited and former Director of Finance in Abia State, Jones Udeogu, for allegedly siphoning about N7.1billion from the Abia State treasury while he was in office as governor. Whereas the trial court, in the judgement by Justice Mohammed Idris, sentenced Kalu to 12 years imprisonment, Udeogu was handed a 10-year jail term.
The court ordered that the firm should wound up, with its assets forfeited to the government. It found the guilty on the strength of money laundering charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, entered against them. However, based on appeal Kalu’s firm and Udeogu lodged against their conviction, the Supreme Court, nullified the entire proceedings on the case-file and ordered the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to re-assign the matter to another judge for retrial.
The apex court, in its lead verdict that was read by Justice Ejembi Eko, held that Justice Idris was no longer a judge of the Federal High Court as at December 5, 2019, when he sat and delivered the judgement that convicted the defendants. According to the Supreme Court, Justice Idris, having been elevated to the Court of Appeal before then, lacked the jurisdiction to return to sit as a High Court Judge. It held that the Fiat that was issued to him by the Court of Appeal President pursuant to section 396(7) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA, 2015, was unconstitutional.
Meanwhile, Kalu remained in custody despite the judgement, even as authorities of the Nigerian Correctional Service disclosed that it had yet to receive order for his release. The EFCC earlier said it was ready to promptly resume the trial of the defendants de-novo (afresh) as ordered by the Supreme Court.