The Federal High Court in Lagos yesterday held that an application by former Minister of Petroleum Resources Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke seeking to be tried in Nigeria was “bizarre” and “misconceived”.
Justice Rilwan Aikawa dismissed the application for lacking in merit.
He agreed with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) it was a bid by the former Minister to escape justice in the United Kingdom.
Mrs Alison-Madueke asked for an opportunity to defend allegations against her in a charge filed against a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) Mr Dele Belgore and a former Minister of National Planning Prof Abubakar Suleiman.
The prosecution said in the charge that Mrs Alison-Madueke (who is at large) allegedly shared $115,010,000 (about N35billion) to different individuals in 36 states ahead of the 2015 general elections, and that Belgore and Suleiman allegedly got N450milion from her.
Ruling on the application, Justice Aikawa referred to EFCC’s counter affidavit where it was stated that while in the United Kingdom, Mrs Alison-Madueke was invited by the Metropolitan Police who are investigating her for several financial crimes.
EFCC said she had been released on bail in the UK, but cannot leave the country, as investigations had reached an advanced stage and her trial imminent.
The commission said the application to list her as a defendant and facilitate her return to Nigeria was designed to scuttle both her investigation and imminent prosecution in the UK and the ongoing trial of Belgore and Suleiman.
According to the prosecution, Mrs Alison-Madueke’s application was a bid is to escape justice in the UK under the guise that she was coming to face trial in Nigeria.
Justice Aikawa held: “This averment, as far as my record shows, has not been controverted by the applicant. They are by law deemed admitted by the applicant, in which case I have no option than to believe them.
“By this unchallenged averment, the action of the applicant is simply a ploy to avoid justice in the UK. This court, unfortunately, cannot be used promote just that.
“The discretion to prosecute or not to prosecute the applicant is entirely that of the Honourable Attorney-General of the Federation. This court has no power to interfere with that discretion. It will, therefore, not attempt to do so.
“On the whole, therefore, I find this application to be lacking in merit and is accordingly dismissed.”
Mrs Alison-Madueke’s lawyer Dr Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN) had argued that Section 216 (1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) provides that a court may permit an alteration or addition to a charge or the framing of a new charge before judgment is pronounced.
He submitted that the section does not expressly state that the power to amend a charge was exclusively that of the prosecution.
But, Justice Aikawa held: “I disagree with him. It cannot by any stretch of the imagination be envisaged that a person other than the prosecution may amend a charge under this provision. The power to amend lies, in my opinion, exclusively with the prosecution and not any other person.”
Ikpeazu had also argued that Mrs Alison-Madueke was a “necessary party” to the case and therefore ought to be joined.
To that, the judge said: “Again, I disagree. As far as I understand, in every criminal trial, the necessary parties are the complainant and the named defendants.
“These are the persons the court will pronounce verdicts on at the conclusion of trial. The inclusion of the name of the applicant in counts one to four does not in my view make her a named defendant.
“Counts one to four in relation to the applicant remain mere statements and no more. It has not graduated to the status of a charge.”
Justice Aikawa also dismissed the SAN’s contention that the former minister would be denied her right to fair hearing guaranteed by Section 36 of the Constitution if trial proceeds in her absence.
The judge held: “In my view, this is a case of crying wolf where there is none.”
According to the judge, if anyone was to validly raise the issue of fair hearing, it was Belgore and Usman, not Alison-Madueke who is not part of the trial.
Besides, the judge said the application was belated.
He held: “Assuming all is in order, this cannot be the right time to make such an application when witnesses have been called and a number of exhibits have been tendered.
“The prosecution has even given a hint to the court that it’ll soon close its case. To roll the case back will definitely be tormenting for both the prosecution and the defence, and it will run contrary to the new spirit of speedy dispensation of criminal matters in particular.
“Therefore, I have no option than to agree that the application is misconceived from the onset. I’ll refrain from calling it an abuse of court process. But I’ll not hesitate to call it a misuse of court process..
“I say this because my curiosity has been aroused. Why did the applicant wait all this while before she came up with this bizarre application?”
After dismissing the application, Justice Aikawa, in another ruling, admitted in evidence an electronic e-mail in which Mrs Alison-Madueke gave instructions on how the money was to be shared. The email contained a list of persons to be given the money.
Afterwards, prosecuting counsel Rotimi Oyedepo continued with the examination of the second prosecution witness, EFCC’s Senior Detective Superintendent, Usman Zakari.
The witness said Belgore and Suleiman’s names were in the list and that they received N450million, which they also signed for.
He said there was no connection between the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the fund that the defendants collected.
“I did not recover any cheque issued by the PDP to the first and second defendants,” Zakari said.
The witness said Belgore made a cash payment of N50million to one Sherif Shagaya without going through a financial institution.
“The first defendant made several cash payments to various individuals without going through a financial institution,” he said.
For instance, he said N61 million was paid to a representative from Kwara North; N102 million to some from Kwara Central, and N87 million to someone from Kwara South.
EFCC had also tendered a document entitled Payment for Security and Transportation (Exhibit 7).
Among security agencies in Kwara who allegedly got part of the money include: the Military, N50million, Civil Defence, N20million, Director of State Security Services and his men, N2.5million, Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC), N10million, INEC Administrative Secretary, N5million, Resident Assistant Inspector-General of Police (AIG), N1million, among others.
Total amount disbursed to security agencies amounted to N126.5million. Justice Aikawa adjourned till November 13 and 14 for continuation of trial.
Credit: The Nation