NBA President Paul Usoro (SAN) (image courtesy Channel TV)

Justice Chuka Obiozor has recused himself from the criminal trial of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Paul Usoro (SAN), citing personal reasons.

The Lagos Federal High Court judge became the second judge to recuse himself from the N1.8 billion alleged fraud charges brought against Usoro by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

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Last year, when Usoro was charged and granted bail, Justice Muslim Hassan recused himself from the trial and returned the case file for reassignment.

However, at the resumed sitting on Thursday, the NBA President could not be arraigned as the judge claimed he could not handle the trial for personal reasons.

This followed a request by the NBA President granted by the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Adamu Abdu-Kafarati, for a change of judge.

On December 18, 2018, a former President of the Bar and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Wole Olanipekun, who led Mr Usoro’s defence team had drawn the court’s attention to a letter written by his client to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, seeking the transfer of the case from Justice Muslim Hassan, to another judge in Lagos or to any judicial division between Uyo and Abuja.

Justice Obiozor said: “For personal reasons, I hereby disqualify myself from handling the case. I hereby return this file back to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for reassignment.”

In December 2018, the EFCC had filed a 10-count charge against Usoro, over allegations relating to converting to personal use, concealing the source of, disguising the origin of and retaining in his account sums of money to the tune of billions of Naira belonging to the Akwa Ibom State government.

The offence was allegedly committed in May 2016.

The commission also alleged that Usoro conspired with others, to commit the offence within the jurisdiction of the court.

Also named in the charge is the incumbent governor of Akwa Ibom, Mr Emmanuel Udom, who is described in the charge as being “currently constitutionally immune from prosecution”.

Others charged are the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Finance, Nsikan Nkan; Accountant-General of Akwa Ibom State, Mfon Udomah; the Akwa Ibom State Attorney-General, Uwemedimo Nwoko, and Margaret Ukpe.

The defendants were said to be at large.

However, Usoro has pleaded not guilty to the charge.