The long-running trial of some marketers in the oil subsidy scandal witnessed another setback on Wednesday morning as a minor electrical spark in the courtroom was met by a curious over-reaction by the judge and lawyers, leading to an abrupt end of the hearing.

Walter Wagbatsama

The spark occurred in the ceiling of a courtroom where Justice Lateefat Okunu was presiding at the trial of Walter Wagbatsoma, Adaoha Ugo-Ngadi, Fakuade Babafemi Ebenezer and Ontario Oil & Gas Limited, causing the lawyers and the judge to jump off their seats. 

At the time of the incident, which was followed by smoke, prosecution counsel Rotimi Jacobs was cross-examining Ugo-Ngadi. 

The judge immediately instructed the court staff to turn off all electrical appliances. She subsequently rose and walked away into her chamber, bringing the court session to an abrupt end.

The subsidy trial had commenced since 2012, after the law firm of Femi Falana petitioned the Federal Government, asking for prosecution of fraudulent oil marketers who had taken subsidy funds without supplying products. Some of the marketers, according to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), had merely collected the subsidy claims without importing even one liter of the product.

Defendants Wagbatsoma, Ugo-Ngadi, Ebenezer and Ontario Oil & Gas Limited, are accused by the EFCC of defrauding the Nigerian government of up to N1.9 billion but pleaded not guilty. They are accused of altering, forging, conspiracy and obtaining property by false pretences.

On Tuesday, a witness had sought a long adjournment, claiming ill-health, but the judge decided that they make a colleague available for testimony rather than make such a request.

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