Dr. Wale Babalakin
In its bid to monitor and arrest the Chairman of Bi-Courtney Limited, Dr. Wale Babalakin, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Tuesday evening deployed a detachment of policemen and other operatives of the commission to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba where he is on admission.
Babalakin, who is believed to be suffering from an undisclosed ailment, has been on admission in the hospital since Wednesday last week.
Investigation by THISDAY revealed that the policemen, who were conveyed to the hospital in a lorry on Tuesday, have been keeping a tab on Babalakin with the aim of arresting him at the slightest opportunity.
It was gathered that EFCC’s determination to monitor and arrest Babalakin was predicated on its understanding that no court can stop it from carrying out its statutory duties.
A source at the hospital yesterday informed THISDAY that the EFCC operatives initially resisted the hospital’s security staff and attempted to force their way into Babalakin’s ward, leading to a face-off that lasted till about 1 am Wednesday morning.
THISDAY gathered that as soon as the policemen stormed LUTH at about 7 pm on Tuesday, they cordoned off the ward where the lawyer cum businessman was receiving treatment ostensibly to prevent him from escaping.
The operatives were, however, prevented from carrying out their mission by the management of the hospital, which denied them access to the ward where Babalakin was on admission.
According to the source, “We just saw policemen everywhere and on enquiry, we were informed that they came to arrest Babalakin.
“Within minutes, 20 of the policemen entered the ward where he was while others waited outside brandishing guns and looking determined to deal with anybody that would stand in their way.”
Investigations showed that at the time of filing this report, operatives of the commission, including uniformed policemen, were still at the entrance of the hospital’s private wing where Babalakin was admitted and its adjoining areas.
Speaking with THISDAY last night, the spokesman of Bi-Courtney, Dipo Kehinde, condemned the action of the agency, describing it as a violation of Babalakin’s rights and an attempt to thwart justice.
Kehinde said: “This is a new trend in judicial administration in Nigeria and it reflects desperation by EFCC to violate the provisions of the law and constitution in order to circumvent justice, and a violation of the basic human rights of the citizen.
“It is noteworthy that this brings back sad memories of the days of Gen. Sani Abacha, when the rights of Nigerians were trampled upon with ease.”
The EFCC had filed a 27-count charge against Babalakin and four others - Alex Okoh, Stabilini Visioni Limited, Bi-courtney Limited and Remix Nigeria Limited – at the Ikeja High Court for fraudulently transferring various sums of money amounting to N4.7 billion on behalf of the former Governor of Delta State, Chief James Ibori, through third parties to some foreign accounts under the guise of purchasing a Challenger Jet aircraft.
However, the arraignment of the embattled businessman was stalled on the day he was to be arraigned in court, as his counsel, Mr. Ebun Sofunde (SAN) told the presiding judge, Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo, that Babalakin had been admitted in LUTH.
Sofunde informed the court that a letter and medical report dated November 26, by Babalakin's doctor, Dr. Charles Harmon, had earlier been forwarded to the court registrar.
He said Babalakin's health had deteriorated immediately after he appeared before the EFCC in Abuja on November 26 for questioning probably due to the stress he went through.
He therefore asked the court to adjourn the matter to allow his client recover from the illness, a request which the judge granted by adjourning the matter to December 12.
The same day, Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court in Lagos, based on the ex-parte application filed by the businessman, stopped the EFCC from proceeding with the arraignment.
Justice Idris, however, turned down two other prayers sought by Babalakin seeking specific prayers to restrain the respondents from prosecuting him, explaining that the prayers were unnecessary as they were already embedded in the leave granted.