To convict Orji Uzor Kalu — former Abia State Governor, Senator and chief whip of the senate — of a ₦7.7 billion fraud allegation, the trial courts engaged in proceedings so elongated, a child born at its inception would have been gearing up for senior secondary school upon its end.
With the Supreme Court decision of May 8th however, it appears the convict Kalu, plus two others, might be gearing up for a repeat, lengthened performance against the Nigerian judiciary. The apex court has ordered a re-trial in the matters laid against them.
Why Was Orji Kalu Convicted For Fraud?
Between May 1999 and May 2007, Orji Uzor Kalu served as the governor of Abia State. Within that time, using his largely unfettered access to state funds, he is alleged to have employed the use of his company – Slok Nigeria Limited and the connivance of Udeh Udeogu, the Director of Finance and Accounts at the Abia State Government House during his tenure, to misappropriate ₦7 billion belonging to the Abia people.
This led to corruption charges being brought against him, his company and Udeogu by the EFCC. The trial began in 2007 and didn’t conclude until 2019, owed to repeated adjournments and delays on the part of the defence.
In a judgement delivered by Justice Mohammed Idris, Orji Uzor Kalu was sentenced to 12 years in prison. His company – Slok Nigeria ltd was ordered to be wound up with assets forfeited to the government, while Udeogu was sentenced to three years imprisonment.
What is responsible for Orji Uzor Kalu’s release from prison?
Given the 12-year duration of the trial laid out against Kalu and his cohorts, changes were bound to be made.
While Kalu thrived, running for the presidency and winning a senatorial position, so did the Justice in charge of the proceedings against him – Justice Mohammed Idris.
In 2018, during the course of the trial, Idris was promoted from the high court to the Court of Appeal. However, using a special fiat granted by Zainab Bulchachawa, a former president of the Court of Appeal, he was permitted to continue presiding over Orji Kalu’s matter.
The Supreme Court however rejected this power, citing it as being in conflict with several decisions of the Supreme Court, and therefore unconstitutional.
By doing this, the Supreme Court has ordered the trial, which began in 2007, to start all over again.
What does Orji Uzor Kalu think of the recent developments?
As expected, the previously convicted former governor is pleased to be released from prison. In a statement put out following his freedom, he noted that the events of the past five months which saw his incarceration have given him a new leash on justice and injustice in Nigeria.
On the way forward with the trial, the EFCC has announced that re-trial proceedings will begin immediately.