Chairman of Innoson Motors Nigeria Ltd., Innocent Chukwuma, for the fourth consecutive time, failed to make an appearance in court for his arraignment.
Consequently, the presiding judge, Justice Mojisola Dada, refused to hear the case, insisting that the defendant must appear in court before she would entertain his (Innoson’s) lawyer’s plea.
This did not go down well with Innoson’s defence counsel, Mr. George Uwechue (SAN), who faced up to the judge, and threatened to quit legal practice.
Innoson was scheduled to appear at an Ikeja Special Offences Court on Wednesday (today).
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that the automobile boss had previously failed to come to court for his arraignment for charges of fraud variously on January 17, February 9 and March 14.
On the last court proceedings held on March 14, it was revealed that Innoson had petitioned the National Judicial Council over Justice Mojisola Dada, the judge, trying the case.
During Wednesday’s proceedings, Justice Dada had told Innoson’s defence team that she will not hear any application brought by them before her except the automobile boss was present in court.
“No application will be moved in the absence of the defendant, my position remains the same.
“You can bring a thousand applications before me for all I care, but no application can be heard in this court without the presence of the defendant,” Justice Dada said.
Innoson’s defence counsel, Mr. George Uwechue (SAN), had moved that “where there is an application before the court challenging jurisdiction, the court has a duty to hear the application, even in the absence of the defendant.”
Justice Dada, however, insisted that she will not hear any application until Innoson is present in court.
The SAN, in response, had an emotional outburst in the presence of stunned onlookers in the courtroom.
“You cannot stand me down, My Lord; you cannot stampede me, My Lord, I’m an octogenarian, I’am 50 plus years at the Bar,” Uwechue cried out.
“The more reason why you should be better composed and comported, don’t injure yourself,” Justice Dada warned the SAN.
Following Uwechue’s outburst, there was an exchange of words between the SAN, Prof. J. N Mbadugha and Mr. Anselem Ozioko, the lead prosecuting counsel for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
During the exchange, Uwechue threatened to quit legal practice because of the conduct of Ozioko, the EFCC counsel.
Earlier, during proceedings, Ozioko had told the court that proceedings can go on despite the petition written to the NJC against Justice Dada by the defendant.
“I have it on good record that where there is a petition against a court, the court can proceed with the matter.
“We have the NJC’s directions to that effect so that we can proceed with the case.
“I have also been served with many processes today by the defence, one of which is a motion asking the court to set aside a process that my learned friend (Mbadugha) had received in open court.
“I’m sure that he realises that it will affect him negatively; that is why he brought the motion,” he said.
The EFCC prosecutor added that the anti-graft commission was taking steps to ensure Innoson’s attendance in the next court date.
Mbadugha, the defence lawyer for Innoson Motors Nigeria Ltd., had also told the court that he had. via appeal, challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear the case.
“We have not been availed of the NJC’s directive, we have gone to the Court of Appeal as regards jurisdiction,” Mbadugha said.
NAN reports that Chukwuma and his company, Innoson Motors Nigeria Ltd., are to be arraigned on four counts of conspiracy to obtain property by false pretenses, obtaining property by false pretenses, stealing and forgery.
According to the charge sheet, the defendants committed the offences between 2009 and July 2011 in Lagos.
The EFCC alleged that defendants with intent to defraud, conspired to obtain by false pretenses containers of motorcycle, spare parts and raw materials, property of Guaranty Trust Bank, from Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd., Apapa, Lagos.
They are alleged to have fraudulently induced staff of Mitsui OSK and Maersk Line to deliver to them via their clearing agents the goods which were imported from China in the name of GTB by falsely pretending that they were authorised by the bank to clear the goods.
The prosecution claimed that the defendants, in order to facilitate the fraud, forged a bill of lading numbered 598286020 of Maersk Line Limited and 11007950841 of Mutsui O.S.K Lines by knowingly putting a false GTB stamp and signature of the bank staff.
The alleged forgery was in order that the forged documents be used or acted upon as genuine to the prejudice of any person within Lagos or elsewhere.
The offences contravened sections 1(1)(b), 1(3), and 8(a) of the Advanced Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act 2016 and Sections 309(9), 388, 465 and 467(1)(j) of the Criminal Code, Laws of Lagos State 2003.
The case was adjourned until May 24 for possible arraignment of the defendant.