Ex-governors, ministers and other high profile suspects being tried by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission are devising various methods to elongate and frustrate their trial, SUNDAY PUNCH investigation has revealed.
But, the anti-graft agency is also not taking any thing to chance to outsmart the suspects whose alleged financial crimes bordered on corrupt enrichment, mismanagement of public fund and oil bunkering.
Documents exclusively obtained by our correspondent on Saturday, identified the filing of ”frivolous applications” by defence lawyers to either stall or prolong their trial as among the ploys adopted by the suspects to frustrate their prosecution.
The development accounted for the inability of the EFCC to bring some of the suspects to justice more than three years after they were arraigned in court.
The Chairman of the commission, Mrs. Farida Waziri, inherited some of the cases which began in 2006 from her predecessor, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, just as she initiated some other trials.
For instance, the celebrated corruption trial of a former Governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, topped the list of cases that had criss-crossed several courts, before the ex-governor fled to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, where his extradition is now being processed.
Ibori was first arraigned on 170-count corruption charge, involving N9.2bn, at a Federal High Court, Kaduna, in 2007 but successfully challenged the jurisdiction of the court at the Appeal Court, having lost at the high court.
The Court of Appeal ruled that the FHC had different jurisdictions and that criminal cases must be tried in the division of the court that was nearest to the place where the crime was committed.
In line with the judgment, the case was re-assigned to FHC, Asaba, where Justice Marcel Awokulehin quashed the charges against Ibori for want of evidence.
The EFCC appealed the judgment and went ahead to press fresh charges against the embattled ex-governor following a petition by Delta State Elders and Stakeholders Forum led by Chief Edwin Clarke.
The case of a former Governor of Ekiti State, Mr. Ayo Fayose, who is standing trial on a 51-count corruption charge involving N1.2bn, had dragged since 2006; while the ex-governor is currently on bail on health ground.
Justice Tijani Abubakar of the Federal High Court, Lagos Division, had on March 29 granted the application of the ex-governor seeking transfer of the money laundering case from Lagos to Ekiti Division of the court.
The court had relied on an earlier decision of the Court of Appeal, Kaduna Division, in a similar case between the EFCC and Ibori.
Fayose had approached the court with the complaint that he no longer had the ”financial wherewithal to further defray accommodation and transportation bills” to attend court sessions during the hearing of his case with the EFCC.
The commission had listed the case as one of those in which ”defence lawyer keeps filing frivolous applications for long adjournments to frustrate and prolong trial.”
The commission‘s case against a former Governor of Plateau State, Chief Joshua Dariye, who is being tried over alleged graft of N700m, was also categorised as being ”stalled” at the High Court while on appeal for stay of trial.
In this category also is the trial of a former Governor of Jigawa State, Alhaji Saminu Turaki, who had been standing trial for N36bn corruption charges since 2007, as well as an ex-Governor of Abia State, Chief Orji Kalu, who was arraigned over N5bn scam.
In the three cases, the governors had challenged the jurisdiction of the High Court and lost, but had gone on appeal to seek stay of trial, which the EFCC said was part of the usual attempt to frustrate and prolong trial.
The N10m unspent budget case involving the Chairman, Senate Committee on Health, Senator Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, was also categorised as stalled on account of an application challenging the charges.
The EFCC described the appeal by a former Governor of Taraba State, Jolly Nyame, challenging the High Court jurisdiction, which is pending before the Supreme Court, as a ”typical example of frivolous appeals to buy time and prolong trial.”
Nyame was arraigned on 21-count corruption charges involving N180m in 2007, but challenged the jurisdiction of the court and lost at the High Court and Court of Appeal.
The commission‘s case against a former Governor of Enugu State, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, involving N5.3bn corruption charges, was also said to have been stalled.
It was stated in the document that the defence lawyer filed separate applications asking the trial judge to rescue himself from the case on allegation of bias and another one challenging the jurisdiction of the court.
The commission‘s N250m case against a former Minister of Aviation, Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, is also said to be stalled following the refusal of the FHC to admit e-print of suspect‘s statement of account as evidence.
Also listed was the pending case against Senate Committee Chairman on Power, Senator Nicholas Ugbane and his House of Representatives counterpart, Mr. Ndidi Elumelu, over N5.2bn Rural Electrification Agency contract scam.
Others accused are Paulinus Igwe, Mohammed Jibo, Mr. Samuel Ibi, Dr. Abdullahi Aliyu, Mr. Simon Nanle, Mr. Lawrence Orekoya, Mr. Abdulsamad Jahun and Mr. Kayode Oyedeji.
The accused were said to have had, on May 10, filed a motion seeking a stay of proceedings before the High Court pending the determination of their appeal before the Court of Appeal in Abuja.
Commenting on the high-profile cases in an interview with our correspondent, EFCC‘s Head of Media and Publicity, Mr. Femi Babafemi, said the chairman of the commission was worried about the undue delay in their conclusion.