Barring any last-minute changes, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, who was released from a correctional facility in Kuje, Abuja on Friday is set to resume at the Senate tomorrow, Daily Trust reports.
It could be recalled that the former Abia State governor was jailed in December 2019 over allegation of misappropriation of Abia’s state funds to the tune of N7.6 billion during his tenure; between 1999 and 2007. He pleaded not guilty.
The lawmaker, who represents Abia North in the Senate under the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC), heaved a sigh of relief when the Supreme Court, last Friday, quashed the judgement of the lower court that convicted him to a 12-year jail term.
Kalu and co-defendants, Slok Nigeria Ltd and a former Director of Finance of the Abia State Government House, Jones Udeogu, had challenged the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court in Lagos to conduct the trial after the presiding judge, Justice Mohammed Idris, who was elevated to the Court of Appeal, returned to conclude the proceedings.
At the Supreme Court, the justices held that the judge had no jurisdiction when he convicted Kalu as the fiat he was given to conclude the trial was inconsistent with the provision of the constitution that a judge of the court of appeal cannot “descend” to also be a judge of the Federal High Court.
After his conviction, Kalu, who is the Senate Chief Whip, continued to enjoy all his entitlements, including salaries while in prison even without performing any legislative duty.
The Red Chamber had said that despite his conviction, Kalu remained a serving lawmaker until he has exhausted all legal options available to prove his innocence of the case.
“There is no provision in the constitution that says the seat of any senator facing prosecution or convicted at a lower court should be declared vacant,” the former Senate spokesman, Senator Godiya Akwashiki, had said.
In Kalu’s absence, Senator Aliyu Abdullahi Sabi (APC, Niger), the Deputy Chief Whip, held sway.
A source close to Kalu said the lawmaker is most likely to resume at the Senate on Tuesday, “since he has been released from prison.”
Kalu had said, immediately after the apex court pronouncement, that he looked “forward to rejoining my colleagues in the Senate as soon as possible” after a five-month incarceration at a correctional centre.
The lawmaker, in a statement he signed, said his stay in prison had taught him invaluable lessons about the country, its people, the justice system and the true meaning of love.
He vowed to fight for the correction of Nigeria’s criminal justice system where over 70% of the prison inmates’ population was made up of people awaiting trial.
Mr Amobi Oga, a businessman in Abia, described the Supreme Court ruling as a victory for the Igbo nation.
Oga, in a telephone interview with our correspondent, said the ruling has proven that the judiciary remained the last hope for the common man.
He said Kalu’s five-month incarceration had empowered him to continue championing the interest of the Igbo and Nigeria as a whole.
Oddy Okechineke, a retired teacher in Abia North, cautioned the constituents against wild jubilation, saying it was too early to celebrate.
“My people should know that the anti-graft agency will soon commence retrials,” Okechineke said.
For his part, John Kalu said, “the Supreme Court only afforded the former governor a ventilator not a respirator.”
While Kalu warms up to join his colleagues in the Red Chamber, it is not yet Uhuru for the former Abia governor. He still has to face his trial anew as the apex court’s judgment did not acquit and discharge him from the alleged fraud.
As the EFCC waits for the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court to assign the case to a new judge to assemble all its witnesses once again and commence the trial afresh, Nigerians are watching to know how long it will take for the case that started 12 years ago to be finally disposed of.