AKEEM NAFIU and TUNDE OYESINA reviewed activities of judiciary in 2021, singling out cases which made the third arm of government tick, particularly those involving some politically exposed persons (PEPs)
Amidst disruptions occasioned by COVID-19 pandemic and the industrial action by Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria (JUSUN), the nation’s judiciary got itself busy with cases involving high profile individuals, particularly politically exposed persons.
In 2021, a number of cases involving high profile individuals initiated by anti-graft agencies especially the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) were either concluded, still ongoing or freshly initiated. Here are some of them:
A former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Paul Usoro (SAN), was on July 16, 2021, cleared of an alleged N1.4 billion fraud charge slammed on him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). Justice Rilwan Aikawa of a Federal High Court in Lagos discharged and acquitted Usoro of the alleged fraud while upholding his no-case submission.
The judge while upholding Usoro’s no case submission held that the anti-graft agency failed to establish any prima facie case against the former NBA chief that would warrant him to enter a defence. Justice Aikawa noted that the penal code, under which Usoro was charged to court is not applicable to southern states, among which are Lagos and Akwa-Ibom states which were said to be locations of the alleged offences.
“On the whole, I hold that the prosecution has failed to establish any prima facie case.
Accordingly, the defendant is hereby discharged and acquitted”, the judge held. Usoro’s lawyer, Effiong O. Effiong (SAN) had while arguing his no case submission submitted that the prosecution only called two witnesses and closed its case because there was no case against his client.
He urged the court to allow the no case motion because the prosecution has failed to establish a primafacie case against the defendant to warrant opening of any defence.
Responding, EFCC’s lawyer, Uduak Kufre, drew the court’s attention to a counter-affidavit filed in opposition to the defendant’s motion. He urged the court to dismiss the no case motion in view of the overwhelming evidence adduced by the prosecution as well as the exhibits admitted in evidence and order the defendant to enter his defence.
The anti-graft agency had on February 18, 2021, closed its case against Usoro after calling two witnesses.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on 4th March, 2021, lost out in its bid to forfeit two Lagos property owned by a former Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, to the Federal Government.
This was sequel to the dismissal of a suit filed by the anti-graft agency at a Federal High Court in Lagos seeking permanent forfeiture of the two property located at 17 and 17b, McDonald Road, Ikoyi, Eti-Osa Local Government Area of Lagos State to the Federal Government.
Delivering judgement in the matter, presiding judge, Justice Mohamed Liman, noted that the essence of an interim order of forfeiture is to preserve the property from being dissipated by the suspect and the burden is on the applicant (EFCC) to satisfy the court that the property is a proceed of unlawful or illegal activity under the corruption laws.
The court further noted that the applicant had in its affidavit in support of its motion for final forfeiture stated that the property sought to be forfeited were purchased with a personal loan obtained by Saraki from Guaranty Trust Bank.
The judge however agreed with Saraki lawyer’s submission that the burden of proof for final forfeiture is on the preponderance of evidence and that the applicant had failed to show that the funds used to purchase the property were from the Kwara State Government House account.
“The evidence of the transactions presented by the applicant were in respect of transactions made after he had purchased the property and the proceeds used for the purchase were legal, that is loans.
“In the final analysis, the court found that the applicant failed to prove its entitlement to the relief of final forfeiture of the respondent’s property. The application is accordingly dismissed while the interim forfeiture order made on 21st October, 2019 is hereby vacated”, the judge held.
The alleged fraud trial of a former Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Adeyemi Ikuforiji is expected to continue in 2022 before Justice Muhammed Liman of a Federal High Court in Lagos.
Ikuforiji is standing trial alongside one of his aides, Oyebode Atoyebi, on a 54-count charge of alleged laundering of N673 million. The duo were dragged to court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The defendants were first arraigned on March 1, 2012, before Justice Okechukwu Okeke on a 20-count charge bordering on fund misappropriation and money laundering.
Following Okeke’s retirement, the defendants were subsequently rearraigned before another judge, Ibrahim Buba. They pleaded not guilty to the charge and were consequently granted bail in the sum of N500 million each, with sureties in like sum.
On September 26, 2014, Ikuforiji and his aide were discharged and acquitted of the alleged offence by Justice Buba while upholding their no-case submission. In freeing the defendants, Justice Buba held that the EFCC failed to establish a prima-facie case against them.
Dissatisfied with the ruling, EFCC through its lawyer, Godwin Obla (SAN), filed an appeal dated September 30, 2014, challenging the decision of the trial court. In the appeal, the anti-graft agency argued that the trial judge erred in law when he held that the counts were incompetent because they were filed under Section 1(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004, which was repealed by an Act of 2011.
The EFCC further argued that the lower court erred in law when it held that the provisions of Section 1 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004 and 2011, only applied to natural persons and corporate bodies other than government.
The commission also submitted that the trial judge erred in law when he held and concluded that the testimonies of prosecution witnesses supported the innocence of the respondents .In its judgment, the Lagos Division of the Appeal Court, in November 2016, upheld EFCC’s appeal with th and ordered a fresh trial of the defendants before another judge.
Following the decision of the Appellate Court, the defendants headed to the Supreme Court, seeking to overturn the ruling. Following the decision of the appellate court, the defendants headed to the Supreme Court, seeking to overturn the ruling of the appellate court.
However, In its verdict, the Supreme Court also upheld the decision of the appellate court and ordered that the case should be sent back to the chief judge of the Federal High Court for re-assignment to another judge.
Justice Daniel Osiagor of a Federal High Court in Lagos will on January 24, 2022, resume hearing in the trial of a former Minister of Aviation and Chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), Femi Fani-Kayode, over alleged N4.6 billion fraud. He is standing trial alongside a former Minister of Finance, Mrs. Nenadi Esther Usman, a former ALGON Chairman, Danjuma Yusuf, and a firm, Jointrust Dimentions Nigeria Limited, on a 17-count charge bordering on the alleged offence.
The prosecution of Fani-Kayode and others by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had commenced since 2016 before Justice Muslim Hassan. The judge later recused himself from the case following a petition by Fani- Kayode alleging that he was formerly a legal officer with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The case was subsequently transferred to Justice Rilwan Aikawa.
However, midway to the defendants’ trial, Justice Aikawa was transfered out of Lagos to another jurisdisction of the court. This led to the transfer of the case to Justice Osiagor for the matter to commence afresh. The EFCC in a 17-count charge marked FHC/L/C/251c/2016, alleged that the accused persons had on or before January 2015, unlawfully retained the total sum of N4.6 billion said to be proceeds of unlawful act.
The offences according to the anti-graft agency contravened Sections 1(a), 15(2)(d), 16(d), 18(a), 16(d) 18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012 and punishable under Section 15(3), 16(2)(b) and 4 of the same Act.
In a related development, Fani-Kayode was on December 17, 2021, arraigned by the EFCC on a 12-count charge of allegedly forging medical reports to evade trial before Justice O. O. Abike-Fadipe of Lagos Special Offences Court in Ikeja.
He however denied the alleged offence following which he was subsequently admitted to bail by the judge in the sum of N5 million with one surety in like sum. In the charge, the EFCC accused Fani- Kayode of procuring fake medical reports on various occasions to avoid attending his trial at the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court through one, Ogieva Oziegbe.
“He procured the false medical reports on January 31, 2018; May 30, 2019; November 24, 2020; March 23 and October 11.
“The defendant falsely purported before the Federal High Court, Lagos, in charge number FHC/L/251C/2016, that the reports were issued by Kubwa General Hospital or the Federal Ministry of Health, Abuja, Federal Staff Hospital”, EFCC alleged.
The trial of a former Governor of Ekiti State, Ayodele Fayose, over alleged N3.3 billion fraud is expected to continue in 2022 before Justice Chukwujekwu Aneke of a Federal High Court in Lagos.
At the last hearing of the matter in December last year, the former governor was re-arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on an amended 11-count charge bordering on the alleged offence. Upon his re-arraignment,
Fayose pleaded not guilty to the charge and was permitted to continue on the existing bail term earlier granted him.
In the amended charge, Fayose and one, Abiodun Agbele, who is also standing trial on alleged money laundering offences before another Division of the court, were alleged to have on June 17, 2014, taken possession of N1.219 billion, to fund Fayose’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign in Ekiti State.
They were accused of committing criminal breach of trust, theft and stealing of public funds.
They were also alleged to have on June 17, 2014, without going through financial institutions, received the sum of $5 million from Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, who was then Minister of State for Defence.
The Federal High Court in Abuja, on October 7, 2021, sentenced Faisal, son of former chairperson of the defunct Pension Reform Taskforce Team, Abdulrasheed Maina, to 14 years imprisonment.
The trial judge, Okon Abang, jailed Faisal after finding him guilty on all the three counts of money laundering involving N58.1 million in public funds. Faisal, whose father also faced separate set of money laundering charges involving N2 billon before the same judge, jumped bail and stopped attending court since 2019.
The judge, who revoked the defendant’s bail and ordered his arrest to no avail, ordered the trial to proceed in his absence.
Faisal was absent from court when the judge read the judgement convicting him on all three counts and sentencing him. The judge jailed him for 14 years on count 2 and for five years on each of counts 1 and 3.
The sentences are to run concurrently, implying that the convict who is believed to have fled from Nigeria, would spend 14 years in prison.
Abdularasheed Maina The Federal High Court in Abuja on Nov 8, 2021, sentenced a former chairperson of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), Abdulrasheed Maina, to eight years imprisonment for money laundering offences involving N2 billion in pension fund.
The judge, Okon Abang, jailed Maina after convicting him and his company, Common Input Property and Investment Ltd, on all the 12 counts filed against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
In his judgement, the judge held that Maina stole over N2 billion belonging to pensioners “most of whom have died without reaping the fruits of their labour”.
“In my view, it is pensioners’ funds that the first defendant (Maina) stole and some of the pensioners died out of frustration”, Justice Abang further held. The court sentenced Maina to various jail terms ranging from three to eight years, which are to run concurrently.
The convict was jailed three years on count 1, five years on count 2, eight years on count 3, eight years on count 4, two years on count 5, five years on count 6 and eight years on count seven.
He also bagged three years in jail for count 8, five years for count 9, eight years for count 10, three years for count 11 and three years for count 12. Justice Abang ordered that the terms of imprisonment shall run concurrently beginning from October 25, 2019, when the convict was arraigned.
The Federal Government on October 18, 2021, filed an amended 7-count charge against the detained leader of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu.
The amended charge which was filed by the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, borders on treasonable felony and Kanu’s alleged involvement in acts of terrorism.
The embattled IPOB leader was subsequently re-arraigned before Justice Binta Nyako of a Federal High Court in Abuja.
On November 10, 2021, Nnamdi Kanu’s legal team walked out on Justice Binta Nyako. Members of the defence team led by Ifeanyi Ejiofor, were earlier seated in court but walked out just before the arrival of the judge at about 10 a.m.
Their action was in protest against the refusal of the operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) to allow Bruce Fein, an American lawyer working with the team, into the courtroom.
They later accused the judge of bias for conducting proceedings in their absence. The proceedings abruptly ended due to the lawyers’ walk-out, with the judge adjourning further hearing in the case to January 19, 2022.
Kanu had earlier engaged the spy police agents in a shouting-match inside the courtroom when he observed the absence of his legal team. As proceedings resumed after the judge entered the courtroom, Mohammed Abubakar, announced an appearance for the prosecution.
However, the defence team, led by Ejiofor was nowhere to be found, prompting the judge to ask Kanu of his lawyers’ whereabouts. In his response, Kanu said his lawyers were protesting the denial of access to Mr Fein, the IPOB lawyer in the United States, who was on the Federal High Court premises to observe the day’s session.
On December 13, 2021, Kanu filed a fresh suit against the Department of State Service, DSS, before the Federal High Court in Abuja, accusing it of grossly violating his fundamental human rights. Kanu, in the suit he filed through one of his lawyers, Maxwell Opara, alleged that a doctor engaged by the security agency, has extracted his blood over 21 times.
The IPOB leader alleged that despite an order of the court, he has neither been allowed to have a change of clothe nor to practice his religion in detention. Cited as respondents in the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CS/1585/21, are the Director General of the DSS, the DSS and the Attorney-General of the Federation. The suit was supported by an affidavit of urgency that was deposed to by Kanu’s younger brother, Emmanuel.
Sunday Igboho’s aides
The Federal High Court, Abuja on August 4, 2021, granted bail to 12 associates of Yoruba nation separatist, Sunday Adeyemo, also known as Sunday Igboho.
At the hearing preceding the court’s ruling, the DSS urged the court not to grant bail to four of the detainees, but had no objection to the bail application of the eight others. In his ruling, the judge, Justice Obiora Egwuatu, overruled DSS’ objection and granted bail to all the 12 applicants.
The judge however staked the bail for the four detainees whose bail applications were opposed on a higher bond.
While he granted bail to the four singled out by the DSS in the sum of N10 million, with two sureties each, he pegged the bail bond for the rest eight at N5 million. The four with higher bail bonds are: Amudat Habibat Babatunde, Abideen Shittu, Jamiu Noah Oyetunji and Bamidele Sunday.
The other eight are: Abdullateef Ademola Onaolapo, Tajudeen Irinloye, Diekola Jubril Ademola, Ayobami Donald, Uthman Opeyemi Adelabu, Olakunle Oluwapelumi, Raji Kazeem and Taiwo Opeyemi Tajudeen. The applicants, who had been in DSS’ detention since July 2, 2021, have approached the court for the enforcement of their fundamental rights.
Orji Uzor Kalu
The Federal High Court in Abuja on September 29, 2021, barred the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) from retrying a former governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, over alleged N7.1 billion fraud.
The Supreme Court had on May 8, 2020, nullified the proceedings leading to Kalu’s conviction before Justice Mohammed Idris of a Federal High Court in Lagos (now of the Appellate Court)
The Supreme Court’s judgement was delivered on an appeal by Kalu’s co-defendant, Udeh Jones Udeogu. Orji Kalu, who is the incumbent Chief Whip of the Nigerian Senate, filed an application before the Federal High Court in Abuja to stop his retrial by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Ruling on the application, the trial judge, Justice Inyang Ekwo, granted the ex-governor’s request. The judge held that the apex court’s verdict did not order the retrial of Kalu.
“The judgement of the Supreme Court on this matter is final. On the whole, the fact that there is no order for retrial of the applicant (Mr Kalu) in the judgement of the Supreme Court, or by the virtue of Section 36 (9) of the 1999 constitution as amended, or Section 283 (2) of the ACJA (Administration of Criminal Justice Act), has allowed prayer two of the applicant to succeed.
“Going by the facts and circumstances of this case, I find that the case of the applicant (Mr Kalu) has succeeded,” the judge said. Citing section 36 (9) of the constitution and Section 238 (2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015), Justice Ekwo held: “No person can be retried on the offence upon which he has been convicted. The chequered history of the case is well known.
“The order of prohibition is hereby made, prohibiting the Federal Government of Nigeria through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission and agents, officers, servants, persons or bodies deriving authority from the Federal Republic of Nigeria, from retrying the applicant in charge number: FHC/ABJ/56/2007 or any other charge based on the same facts de novo (afresh).
There has been no extant judgement or ruling of a competent in Nigeria mandating same. That is the judgement of the court”. However, the court ordered the retrial of Udeh Udeogu, which he slated for January 11, 2022.
The absence of Justice Obiora Egwuatu of a Federal High Court in Abuja stalled the re-arraignment of former National Publicity Secretary of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Olisa Metuh, over alleged N400 million fraud on October 14, 2021.
The court had, on September 28, 2021, re-scheduled the re-arraignment of Metuh following Justice Egwuatu’s inability to sit on that day. The case could not proceed again due to the trial judge’s absence. Justice Egwuatu was said to be attending judges’ seminar in Lagos State.
The court has fixed Feb. 15, 2022 for Metuh’s re-arraignment. The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, had on Dec. 16, 2020, nullified a Federal High Court’s judgement that convicted and sentenced Metuh to seven years imprisonment for money laundering. In a unanimous decision, a three-man panel of Justices of the Appellate court, held that the judgement of the trial Judge, Okon Abang, delivered against Metuh on Feb. 25, 2020, was tainted with bias.
The appellate court held that Abang had by the disparaging remarks he made in the judgement, betrayed his premeditated mindset against the defendant (Metuh) whom he accused of writing various petitions against him.
According to Justice Stephen Adah who delivered the lead verdict of the appellate court, allowing the trial court’s verdict to stand “will set a dangerous precedent.”
Consequently, the Appellate Court voided the conviction and sentence that was handed to Metuh and his firm, Destra Investment Limited, and remitted the case file back to the High Court for a re-trial by another judge.
Metuh was jailed over allegation that he received N400 million from the former National Security Adviser, Col. Sambo Dasuki (Rtd) prior to the 2015 Presidential Election, without contract approval or execution.
His earlier conviction followed a seven-count charge that was preferred against him and his firm by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on December 6, 2021, ordered a trial-within-trial in the money laundering case the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, instituted against a former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke (SAN).
The anti-graft agency is prosecuting the erstwhile AGF alongside an oil mogul, Aliyu Abubakar, on a 14-count charge. In the charge, EFCC alleged that Adoke had sometimes in August 2013, in Abuja, accepted a cash payment of the dollar equivalent of N300 million from Aliyu, and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 16 (2)(b) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2011 (as amended).
Whereas Abubakar was also ac- cused of accepting a cash payment of the sum of $4 million from Faman Holdings Limited, through one, Abdulhakeem Uthman Mustapha, in September 2013, the prosecution, told the court that Adoke, made structured cash payment in tranches into his bank.
In the charge, EFCC alleged that Adoke had sometimes in August 2013, in Abuja, accepted a cash payment of the dollar equivalent of N300 million from Aliyu, and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 16 (2)(b) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act 2011 (as amended).
The prosecution maintained that the former AGF made cash payments that exceeded the approved threshold amounts, outside a financial institution. At the resumed proceedings in the matter, Adoke’s co-defendant, Abubakar, told the court that a statement he made before the EFCC in respect of the case, was under duress.
Odili’s residence invaders
A Federal High Court in Abuja presided over by Justice Nkeonye Maha, on December 15, 2021, remanded 3 suspects in Kuje Correctional Centre over their alleged involvement in the invasion of Abuja residence of a Supreme Court Judge, Justice Mary Odili.
The Inspector General of Police (IGP) had arraigned the suspects believed to have participated in the October 29, 2021, invasion of the Abuja residence of the judge. The defendants comprised two senior lawyers, Alex Onyekuru and Igwe Ernest; a senior journalist, Stanley Nkwazema and a house wife, Hajia Memunat Maisanu.
They were put on trial on 18-count charge. All the defendants were brought to court under heavy security by police operatives.
However, when the charges were read to them, they took turn to enter a plea of not guilty.
On the full list of the suspects on the charge sheet are; Adjodo Lawrence, Michael Diete-Spiff, Barrister Alex Onyekuru, Bayero Lawal (a. k. a. Director of EFCC), Barrister Igwe Ernest, Aliyu Umar Ibrahim, Hajiya Maimuna Maishanu and Dr. Ayodele Akindipe (AKA Herbalist).
The rest are; Yusuf Adamu (a.k.a. Godson to Chief Peter Odili), Bashir Musa, Assistany Supsrintendent of Police ASP, Mohammed Yahaya, Stanley Nkwazema, Shehu Jibo, Abdullahi Adamu and Abdullahi Usman. Other suspects were said to be on the run. Further hearing in the matter will continue on January 17, 2022.