The Department of State Services on Tuesday refused to produce a former Governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswam, before a Federal High Court in Abuja, for his ongoing trial on money laundering charges preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Suswam has been in the custody of the DSS over alleged ongoing criminal investigations since February 24, 2017.
The sum of N3.1bn was allegedly stolen from the proceeds of the sale of the shares owned by the Benue State Government while Suswam was the governor of the state.
Oklobia, the second defendant, was present with his lawyer, Mr. Audu Anuga, in court on Tuesday.
Hearing in the case before Justice Ahmed Mohammed was to resume on Tuesday with the prosecution scheduled to present its fourth witness.
But the prosecution counsel, Mr. Oluwaleke Atolagbe, who represented the lead prosecuting counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacob (SAN), informed the court he could not account for Suswam’s absence.
Atolagbe said, “The case was supposed to be for continuation of prosecution’s case.
“But the first defendant is not in court. He is on bail (with regard to the case).
“I leave it to the learned senior advocate for the first defendant to explain to the court.”
In his response, Suswam’s lawyer, Mr. Joseph Daudu (SAN), informed the judge that the DSS had been keeping his client in custody since February 24 without trial.
The lawyer said Suswam was being held against his (the ex-governor’s) will and his absence from court was due to no fault of his.
Daudu said, “The absence of the first defendant is due to no fault of his. On February 24, about a month ago, he was invited by the Department of State Services, otherwise known as the DSS, and since that day, he has been kept in custody without trial. No effort has been made to take him to court in regard to any allegation they have against him.
“My lord, the first defendant is being prosecuted by the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the last place he was seen was the custody of an agency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“So, if the prosecution is not aware, the statement from the bar should make him to be aware, so that the first defendant could find out why he is being kept in detention without trial. We don’t know what has happened to him.
“I came to court purposely to tell the court that the absence of the first defendant from court is not out of disrespect to the court.
“I don’t want to go on and on. The proper forum to ventilate how we feel is not here. We will do that at the appropriate quarters.
“Under this circumstance, an adjournment is inevitable. I want the court to hold that we have given an excuse for his absence and his absence is not willful.”
In response, Atolagbe said the EFCC, being the prosecuting agency in the case, could not be blamed for Suswam’s absence.
By Ade Adesomoju, Abuja.