One question which has emerged on the front burner of national discourse in the aftermath of the EFCC’s apparent shoddy treatment of Obla SAN is: what is the fate of other prosecutors for the Commission? This question undoubtedly flows from the supposition that a prosecutor who sees to the diligent, professional and unrelenting prosecution of economic and financial crimes against several politically-exposed persons at great personal expense, may eventually find himself on the receiving end of the EFCC’s brutish and ruthless use of power.
If the allegation made by Godwin Obla SAN in his widely-published Press Release of 9th November 2016 is anything to go by, the EFCC under the Chairmanship of Ibrahim Magu has not only refused to pay his professional fees and settle his expenses for the over 40 cases he had successfully handled for the Commission, but has also proceeded on a malicious campaign of calumny intended to discredit and embarrass him, and to erode whatever professional esteem he had hitherto enjoyed, on the basis of a whimsical and trumped-up charge.
Already, a few of the Commission’s external prosecutors who spoke to us under the cover of anonymity have grumbled about the unfair treatment meted to Obla and expressed grave concerns about their own fate. According to one source, the humiliation of Obla at the hand of the EFCC is an ominous foreboding to what lies ahead for persons who fall out of favour with the Commission, irrespective of the enormous sacrifices and contributions such persons may have made to the fight against corruption. One of the possible fallouts of the EFCC’s recent posturing may be increased prosecutorial apathy amongst prosecutors who, being conscious of the penchant of the Commission for using and ‘dumping’ prosecutors in such an ignominious fashion, may think twice about making personal sacrifices on behalf of the Commission.
Another potentially dangerous outcome of the EFCC’s treatment of Obla SAN’s case is the leeway it establishes for any person who was convicted of sundry crimes after a tortuous legal process to allege prosecutorial misconduct. This prospect is likely to usher in an unprecedented wave of allegations that prosecutors now routinely invest themselves in the purchase of convictions for the EFCC, as ridiculous as that may seem; or that prosecutors are motivated by a personal desire to secure conviction against accused persons in exchange for the payment of bribes, even if grievous bodily harm would be caused to the accused persons. This will undoubtedly cast a pall of doubt over all the convictions the EFCC has recorded since its formation (all of which have come at a substantial cost to the Nigerian taxpayer), no matter how well-founded in law all such convictions might be.
One can only hope that the unfolding scenario will not damage the erstwhile fruitful relationship between prosecutors and the EFCC; and will not irredeemably affect the effectiveness of the anti-corruption campaign of the current administration.
After detaining him for two weeks, a former prosecutor with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Godwin Obla (SAN), was last week arraigned before a Lagos High Court. His offence? He was alleged to have bribed a Federal High Court judge, Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia with N5 million to secure conviction in Charge No.: FHC/L/C/482C/10 between the Federal Republic of Nigeria v. Raymond Temisan Omatseye. Curiously, the Charge filed against Obla SAN was silent in mentioning the names of the parties in Charge No. FHC/L/C/482C/10. Obviously, this may be because it would interest the public to note that it was an EFCC matter.
Obla SAN was said to have committed the offence on May 21, 2015, by conspiring to pervert the course of justice with the sum of N5 million. The said sum of money was alleged to have been transferred to the bank account of one Nigel & Colive Limited which Ajumogobia is alleged to be sole signatory to. The offence was said to have contravened the provisions of the Criminal Laws of Lagos State, 2011.
In counts one to four on the charge sheet, Obla SAN was said to have offered gratification in the said sum, by transferring the money from his company’s account Obla & Co., domiciled with the United Bank for Africa (UBA), to Nigel & Colive. The said transfer was alleged to have been made in order to restrain a public officer from acting in exercise of her official duties.
But Obla SAN has since denied the allegation, saying that the payment of N5 million under reference was a payment he made on May 21, 2015 to a company named Nigel & Colive Nigeria Ltd, for the purchase of building materials for his construction site in Abuja. This position was conveyed in a widely-circulated Press Release issued by Obla SAN and published in several national dailies on the 9th of November 2016.
Obla SAN further clarified that at that material time of the said commercial transaction and till date, he had no privy knowledge that Justice Ajumogobia had any interest whatsoever in the company.
He said when he honoured the invitation of the EFCC for an interview, the Acting Head of the STF team read incoherent portions of Justice Ajumogobia’s statement, alleging that the N5 million was part of purchase price of N40 million for a bungalow at Karshi, Abuja.
“For the avoidance of doubt, I have never purchased or made any payment for any bungalow in Karshi, Abuja or landed property, whatsoever from Justice Ajumogobia. On account of the foregoing, I was informed that the EFCC Chairman had directed that I be detained,” he explained.
Obla SAN said he was shocked to be confronted with the allegation of possible bribery payments to Justice Ajumogobia ostensibly in return for judicial favours. He insisted that there is no foundation or basis whatsoever for making any such payments.
He acknowledged that Justice Rita Ajumogobia was his classmate 33 years ago and has always been his friend but added that he had only minimal professional contact with the Judge.
According to him, the records will indicate that in all her years at the Bench, from 2004 when she was appointed till date, the only matter he had before her was the case of FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA v. RAYMOND TEMISAN OMATSEYE, which commenced in 2010 and terminated in 2016, wherein he acted as a prosecutor for EFCC and which resulted in a landmark conviction of a former Director-General of NIMASA on allegations of approving contracts in excess of lawful thresholds and other infractions under the Public Procurement Act.
“For the record, I re-state that the only matter in which I have ever appeared as a lawyer before her Lordship, Justice Rita Ajumogobia was in Charge No: FHC/L/C/482C/10 between FRN v. Raymond Omatseye whose trial commenced by a criminal charge dated 22 December 2010 before another Court and was later re-arraigned before her lordship, Justice Rita Ajumogobia on an amended 27 count charge dated January 16, 2013. I acted as prosecutor for the EFCC and the trial culminated in the conviction of Mr. Raymond Omatseye in the judgment delivered by the court on 20 May 2016. Importantly, the conviction of Mr. Raymond Omatseye was very significant in the fight against corruption and was widely celebrated as the first conviction ever secured by the EFCC under the Public Procurement Act 2007,” he explained. One factor which lends credence to this assertion is the non-stop celebration by the EFCC of this conviction/Judgment. For instance, the EFCC in its Press Release dated 20th May 2016 which appears on its website www.efccnigeria.org comments on the Judgment as follows:
“After five years of grueling legal battle, justice is finally served as a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos today convicted a former Director General of the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Mr. Temisan Omatseye.
Justice Rita Ofili- Ajumogobia in a landmark ruling convicted the former DG on 25 of the 27-count charge bordering on alleged contract variation, bid rigging and awarding contract above his approval limit which violates the provisions of the Public Procurement Act, brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.”
Again, on May 27 2016, the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, whilst speaking at the launch of the “Clean Hands Against Corruption Campaign” at the Eagle Square in Abuja alluded to the conviction of Raymond Omatseye as one of the “140 convictions the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has secured in six months.”
It is indeed curious that the same EFCC which lauded the conviction of Raymond Omatseye has now made a complete volte face to allege that the conviction was secured as a result of “perversion of justice”, moreso as no indication has been given as to whatever motivation Obla SAN might have had to pay a bribe to secure a conviction on a supposedly watertight case presented by the EFCC.
Yet another question which any sane mind would be inclined to ask is this: are bribes no longer paid contemporaneously with the acts for which they were paid? In other words, even if it were true that the sum of N 5million Naira was paid by Obla SAN into Justice Ajumogobia’s account (which is not the case here, payment having been made to Nigel & Colive Ltd), how can the payment of the said amount more than one year before the date of delivery of judgment in the case of FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA v. RAYMOND TEMISAN OMATSEYE constitute or be interpreted as a bribe?
Note that the payment in question was allegedly made on the 21st of May 2015 while judgment was delivered on the 20th of May 2016- exactly one year after.
Obla SAN, in the same Press Release of 9th November 2016, alleged that notwithstanding the diligent and successful prosecution and conviction, the EFCC for whom he acted and who has deemed it a matter of public interest to make this bribery allegation has neither settled expenses he incurred over a six-year period in prosecuting this matter nor paid any professional fee whatsoever in respect of the said matter. Obla also alleged that the EFCC owes him over N 602 million and $ 202,000 in unpaid professional fees for the prosecution of over 40 cases for the EFCC, and his efforts in ensuring the recovery and eventual forfeiture of assets and cash running into several billions.
Obla SAN said he was at a loss as to why on earth he would be obliged to pay out bribe to Justice Rita Ajumogobia for judicial favours since the only case he had ever taken before her court was as prosecutor on behalf of EFCC in a criminal charge which terminated in a landmark conviction for EFCC, a conviction which has been lauded by the EFCC itself as a “landmark ruling” coming after a “grueling legal battle”. “It is inconceivable that I paid a bribe on behalf of or for the benefit of EFCC to her lordship, Justice Rita Ajumogobia or any other person,” he continued.
By alleging that Obla SAN attempted to “pervert the course of justice” in the case of FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA v. RAYMOND TEMISAN OMATSEYE, is the EFCC contending that the accused person ought not to have been convicted, and instead discharged and acquitted? If that is the case, it raises pertinent questions about the investigatory and prosecutorial modus operandi of the Commission; as to whether it randomly embarks on prosecutions where it believes the suspect is innocent, whilst proceeding to waste precious public funds in the process.
Obla SAN also alleged in the Press Release that all the lawyers who were interviewed at the EFCC office in respect of various payments to judicial officers were all granted bail on self-cognisance, except him.
He described it as a mystery that after his meritorious service to EFCC in various capacities, particularly as prosecutor in no less than 40 cases involving economic and financial crimes and securing convictions, for which his bill of charges continues to lie unsettled at EFCC, the present leadership has elected to treat him with disdain and needlessly detained him in its custody, without the benefit of doubt. Efforts to get Obla SAN’s office to comment on these allegations/issues were unsuccessful, as he only said the matter was in Court and referred us to his Press Release of 9th November 2016.
Obla, for the five years he was prosecuting for the EFCC, consistently moved from one part of the country to another and from one courtroom to another prosecuting corruption-related cases for the EFCC, and obtaining the forfeiture of cash and assets running into several billions of Naira. However, as soon as Ibrahim Magu was appointed to head the anti-graft commission, the table turned and he became the hunted.
First, he was severally invited over role in the Halliburton bribery scandal where he was appointed by the former Attorney General Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, as one of the lawyers to help the country negotiate the plea bargain with the companies involved in the scandal for which they recovered the sum of $200million and got commendations from the Federal Government.
When it seemed the Commission could not establish a prima facie case him, the allegation of bribing Justice Ajumogobia was orchestrated against him.
He successfully prosecuted the case the anti-graft commission filed against a former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Raymond Omatseye and got him convicted after five years of legal battle.
It is unclear how the EFCC would approach its now strained relationship with Obla SAN who, according to insider sources, has been one of the most prolific and successful prosecutors for the EFCC.
– Kenneth Atavti, the judiciary editor of Nigerian pilot Newspapers writes from Abuja
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