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Judge Orders DSS’ DG To Produce Suswam In Court

Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered the Director General of the Department of State Services (DSS), Lawal Daura to ensure the production of former Beunue State governor, Gabriel Suswam before his court on May 11.
Gabriel Suswam

…Ex-governor’s absence stalls planned arraignment on a fresh charge

The order by the judge was necessitated by the failure of the DSS, in whose custody Suswam was currently being kept, to produce him Tuesday in court for arraignment on a fresh 32-count charge marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/48/2017, bought against him and two others by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF).

Suswam, former Finance Commissioner in the state, Omodachi Okolobia and Benue State Government House Administration’s Accountant, Janet Aluga (named in the fresh charge filed March 27) are accused among others, of diverting the sum of N9.79billion, part of which was meant for Police Reform Programme and Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P).

Of the three defendants, only Suswam was absent in court when the case was called Tuesday. And, upon enquiry by the judge why the ex-governor was absent, lead prosecuting lawyer, Aliyu Akilu told the court that Suswam was being detained by the DSS, but that he was aware of the day’s proceedings and allegedly chose not to attend court.

Akilu said:“The 1st defendant is on administrative bail granted him by the police.  But he is currently in the custody of the DSS. We made effort to serve him with the charge there, but he refused. We decided to serve his lawyer, who is in court today.

He ((Suswam) is aware of today’s proceedings. We wrote him, but he refused to attend court. The provision of Section 87 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), the court can compel his presence. We asked the court to exercise that power,” Akilu said.

Akin Adedeji, who said he appeared for Suswam in protest, faulted the prosecution’s decision to serve the charge on his office as against the requirement that a defendant must be served in criminal cases personally.

Adedeji said:”By 2pm Tuesday, two officers of the Nigerian Police walked into our office, seeking to serve a charge on us, in relation to this case. We accepted the charge out of respect for this court.

“That we are representing the 1st defendant in another case did not mean he will engage us to represent him in this. Section 36(c) of the Constitution says, upon service of a charge on a defendant, he has a right to brief any legal practitioner of his choice. The 1st defendant has been in the custody of the DSS since February 25,” Adedeji said.

Lawyer to Oklobia and Aluga, David Iorhemba noted that since the case was a joint trial, it was impossible for the court to conduct proceedings in the absence of the 1st defendant. He sought an adjournment.

After listing to the lawyers, Justice Kolawole said since Suswam was being held by the DSS, the prosecution should serve a copy of the charge on the Legal Department of the DSS for onward delivery to the 1st defendant.

The judge further directed the Director General of the DSS to ensure that the ex-governor is brought to court on the next adjourned date (May 11) to enable him answer to the charge pending against him, if he is not released before then.

A similar scenario played out on March 28 this year when DSS’s failure to produce Suswam stalled proceedings in another case involving him and Oklobia before Justice Ahmed Mohammed (also of the Federal High Court, Abuja).

Suswam and Oklobia are, in the case, being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC) for allegedly diverting N3.1billion belonging to Benue State Government. 
The DSS’ refusal to produce Suswam forced Justice Mohammed to adjourn the case to May 9.

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