A former governor of Oyo State, Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala, former deputy Chief Whip of the senate, Senator Ayoola Agboola, and a business man, Mr. Femi Babalola, have dragged the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to the Supreme Court over allegation of N11.5 billion fraud.
The move by the trio stalled the commencement of trial in the case that was scheduled to commence, Monday before Justice Muniru Owolabi of an Oyo State High Court, holden at Iyaganku, Ibadan.
According to the the EFCC, the alleged fraud was committed when the first defendant, Alao-Akala was governor of the state between 2007 and 2011.
Agboola, the second defendant, at the time served as Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters while Babalola owns an engineering firm, Pentagon Engineering Services, that executed some contracts during the administration.
At the court on Monday, counsel to Alao-Akala and Babalola, Mr. Hakeem Afolabi, (SAN) moved two applications before Justice Owolabi, informing the court that his clients have filed an interlocutory appeal on the matter before the Supreme Court, seeking an adjournment of the case in order to await the decision of the apex court.
He stated that the applications dated April 7 and filed on April 9, this year, were filed on 10 grounds, praying the court to allow the defendants to go, and “should be told not to return to sin, though they are not sinners.”
He relied on some earlier pronouncements of the Supreme Court, including Amaechi versus Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Pastor Richard Ogunwole (SAN), who is the counsel to the second defendant, Ayoola Agboola, aligned himself with the two applications moved in the court, saying the interlocutory appeal in the Supreme Court would terminate the proceedings at the high court entirely, if it succeeds.
He urged the court to “tarry a little, not resting it,” in continuing with the case so that it would not run on collision course against the apex court.
But the EFCC’S counsel, Dr. Benedict Ubi, vehemently opposed the adjournment, arguing that granting the application would amount to “a violent violation of the Constitution of Nigeria, ” relying on the pronouncement of the Supreme Court in the case of Olisa Metuh versus Federal Republic of Nigeria. He urged the court to disregard the applications and go on with the case.
Justice Owolabi, however, adjourned the case to June 4, 2018 for ruling on the applications, whether the court would await the decision of the Supreme Court or it would continue with the trial while the interlocutory appeal is still pending in the apex court.
The EFCC had on October 11, 2011 filed the matter before Justice Moshood Abass of the court and the defendants were admitted to bail, which they perfected.
Justices Akintunde Boade and Bayo Taiwo, had also sat on the case before the former retired and the latter transferred out of Ibadan Division.
Alao-Akala was admitted to bail in the sum of N5million with two sureties in like sum, while the second and third defendants were also granted bail in the sum of N3 million each with two sureties in like sum.
But the three defendants were re-arraigned before Justice Owolabi on March 5, 2018, over the same matter by the EFCC.
The trio pleaded not guilty to the charges preferred against them.
Counsel to the defendants urged the court to allow their clients to enjoy the previous bail condition granted to them, which was granted by the court.
The defendants are facing an 11-count charge of conspiracy, awarding contract without budgetary provision, obtaining by false pretence, acquiring property with money derived from illegal act and concealing the ownership of such property, among others.
The EFCC’s counsel, Dr Benedict Ubi, had told the court that when Alao-Akala was the governor of Oyo State, he awarded a road contract worth N8.5billion between 2007 and 2009 to Pentagon Engineering Services, alleging further that the firm handled the contract on behalf of the 33 local governments areas of the state without budgetary provision.
Alao-Akala, he contended, ordered the supply of drilling machines on behalf of the 33 local government areas worth N3.5billion, saying Alao-Akala purportedly conspired with Ayoola to withdraw N2.9 billion from Oyo State Local Government Joint Account.
Ubi also told the court that Alao-Akala illegally acquired some property on Old Bodija Road, Off Rotimi Williams Road in Ibadan, when he was the governor, saying the alleged offences contravened Section 22 (4) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act and Section 1 (18) of the Advanced Fee Fraud Act.
The EFCC’s counsel, in an interview with journalists after the proceedings, noted that “the normal practice is that when applications of these nature are before the court, the court will entertain them first before any other step is taken. The determination of the application will show us the direction to which we are going.”
He held that an appeal in the higher court “does not operate as a stay. It is not an automatic position. If you raise an application before the court or the higher court, decision will be taken on it. Upon the ruling ordering a stay, then the proceedings will be stayed.”
Counsel to the first and third defendants, Afolabi, also told journalists that the “10 grounds in our applications were to demonstrate that it will be an act of injustice for this court to proceed when the defendants have their appeals, pending before the Supreme Court.”