Court Turns Down Request to Order Obasanjo’s Trial

Vanguard, 28 March 2009- A Federal high court sitting in Abuja yesterday turned down a request by two Abuja-based legal practitioners to compel the Code of Conduct.

Bureau to prosecute ex-President Olusegun Obasanjo’s over his handling of a whopping N1.2 billion Petroleum Development Trust Fund (PTDF) while he held office.

The trial high court judge, Justice Anwuli Chikere said the two lawyers pushing for Obasanjo’s trial not only lacked the legal right to invoke the court’s jurisdiction for the purpose but that their application was bereft of sufficient facts to move the court in their favour.

The judge who said her hands were tied in view of their lack of locus standi to maintain the suit struck it out without considering the merits of their case.

The lawyers, Messrs Osuagwu Ugochukwu and Charles Ogboli, wanted the ex-President arraigned, tried and appropriately sanctioned in the event he is found guilty of the handling of the said petroleum trust fund.

The management of the PTDF money, Vanguard reports, had strained the relationship between the ex-president and his former deputy, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar. The row over PTDF in the presidency in 2007 led to startling revelations about how key public officials handled government funds. The revelations had galvanised an investigation by the senate which report led to the suit in question.

The plaintiffs had laid the report of the senate which partly indicted the two key players in the Obasanjo government before the court as reason for why it must issue the mandamus order compelling the Code of Conduct Tribunal to begin the trial of ex-President Obasanjo.

In fact, the senate report formed the legal substratum upon which the lawyers’ suit was predicated.

They claimed that the Senate Committee referred Obasanjo to the bureau for what it called “further action.”

The 2006 presidential approvals were in respect of payment of N250 million to a law firm for the incorporation of Galaxy Backbone; $10 million for the purchase of computers for civil servants outside the scope of PTDF and N1billion for DICON.

But the ex-President had, in a 38-page written address submitted to the court in January through his counsel, Chief Afe Babalola (SAN), said he could not be prosecuted by the Code of Conduct Tribunal after his exit from power. Obasanjo said the matter was brought in “bad faith and with the intention to irritate and annoy” him.

The ex-President supported his address with 48 authorities and urged the court to dismiss the case as having no merit. Besides, Obasanjo, through his lawyer said he was never indicted by the Senate. He also contended that he was no longer a public officer and therefore could not be sued.

Besides, he argued that the two plaintiff lawyers lacked the legal right to initiate the suit.

But the plaintiffs, who presented 110 authorities to the court, said Obasanjo could be prosecuted.

They said: “No law bars the prosecution of former public officers who have violated the provisions of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act. See Section 16 of the Act.

“No law has been cited by the applicant to sustain his position that ex-public officers cannot be proceeded against by the second defendant.

“On the contrary, violations of the provision of the Code of Conduct Bureau Act are criminal in nature and thus any person (serving or retired) whose acts or omissions whilst in public office infringe on the Bureau Act has no immunity from prosecution and are subject to the jurisdiction of the Code of Conduct Bureau.

“We, therefore, urge this court to take judicial notice of the fact that a former Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, having left public office, is now being prosecuted by the Code of Conduct Bureau for breaching the provisions of the Act.”

Besides, Osuagwu said: “We are tax payers and we do not need to wait for other tax payers who are sleeping on their rights before coming to court. Our rights need not to be affected directly before coming to court. It may have been affected indirectly. We have a right to come to court to ask that public funds should be accounted for.

But Justice Anwuri Chikere yesterday overruled the plaintiffs, saying they lacked the locus standi to initiate the suit.

Upholding the citation of Ogunwumiju who represented ex-President Obasanjo in the matter, in a Court of Appeal decision on Bewaji Vs Obasanjo reported in 2007 Nigerian Weekly Law Report (NWLR) part 1039, the trial judge held that it is only when a plaintiff has suffered more damages than other Nigerians that he can sue.

Justice Chikere said that the contrary was the case in the instant case.

She also held that the plaintiffs failed to prove that there was an infraction on their legal rights and also did not disclose how their interests were affected.

According to her, the affidavit in support of the Originating Summon was also not sufficient because there were no enough facts to support claims adding that, “it is not enough to show that they are tax payers. “The suit is hereby struck out,” she pronounced.