Justice I.O. Ijelu of the Lagos State High Court, Ikeja, has taken a significant step in the ongoing case involving businessman Chief Cletus Ibeto, facing allegations of an N4.8 billion fraud.
On November 3, 2023, the court issued a bench warrant for Ibeto’s arrest due to his failure to appear for arraignment. InfoStride News reported that the case, which includes charges of obtaining by pretences, fraudulent conversion of property, criminal breach of trust, forgery, and deception, had previously been adjourned to November 3, 2023, following an application and appeal by his lawyer, Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN.
During prior proceedings, Ikpeazu had sought an adjournment, emphasizing the need for a resolution of the matter, stating, “The law is not a respecter of any person. I am of the firm view that this is a matter that can be resolved; and if given some time, it can be resolved.”
In response, the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, pointed out that plea bargain opportunities had been offered to the defendants even before the charges were filed. He highlighted the necessity for an arraignment to take place before the court could consider other actions.
Justice Ijelu had expressed concerns at the time that the defense counsel might be attempting to delay the proceedings. The judge ruled that the defendant should not be shielded from appearing in court and scheduled the arraignment for November 3, 2023.
However, during the proceedings on the specified date, Chief Cletus Ibeto was once again absent in court. The prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, reminded the court that the defendants had been absent during previous sittings on September 28 and October 5, 2023.
In response, counsel for the defendants, D.A. Awosika, SAN, apologized for his client’s absence and cited underlying health issues. He emphasized the distinction between proceedings before and after the plea is taken, arguing that the defense had an application challenging the court’s jurisdiction.
Responding to this argument, Rotimi Jacobs noted that a similar point had been raised by the previous counsel. He maintained that the defendant must take his plea before any application or objection could be addressed, referencing relevant sections of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law.
Justice Ijelu concurred and ruled that the defendant must take his plea before further actions could be considered, emphasizing that jurisdictional matters should not be used to delay the delivery of justice.
Following this decision, Rotimi Jacobs requested the issuance of a bench warrant for the defendant’s arrest. However, D.A. Awosika objected, citing the defendant’s age and health issues.
The court, nonetheless, dismissed the objection, as there were no compelling reasons for the defendant’s continuous absence. The bench warrant application was granted, and the case was adjourned to November 15, 2023, for arraignment.
Cletus Ibeto is a prominent Nigerian entrepreneur, manufacturer, and philanthropist, known as the founder and Chairman of Ibeto Group, the largest conglomerate in the Eastern part of Nigeria.
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