Tribunal reserves judgment for June 30
By Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
Former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godsday Orubebe, yesterday told the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCB) sitting in Abuja that he regretted serving Nigeria in the ministerial capacity because he was dragged before the tribunal for just cause.
The federal government had last year October filed a four-count charge, bordering on false assets declaration and demanding and collection of bribe of about N70 million against the former minister.
Led in evidence yesterday by his counsel, Mr. Selekowoi Larry (SAN), Orubebe who testified in his own defence, told the tribunal that the charges against him were unfounded and uncalled for because the property for which he was arraigned did not belong to him.
He made it clear that he was merely being persecuted because he had not breached the Code of Conduct for Public Officer.
In an emotionally laden remark while giving evidence, Orubebe said he served Nigeria diligently and with energy at his disposal for six years and four months and that his major gain of the service was the criminal charges brought against him.
“Let me make this point now here before this tribunal that the only regret I have for serving this country is this trial. It is very unfortunate, it is regrettable, it is shameful. I am sad and my heart is heavy because I am put on trial on mere empty land in the bush officially given to me by the same government I served.
“Nigerians may not know this and I wish to say it out that during the peak of the militancy in the Niger Delta, I slept with the militants in the Creek for two weeks, negotiating with them on how to adopt peaceful approach for their demands, and in the end, my efforts brought peace to this country and our oil companies have their peace and Nigeria was better of in the area of security and economy because of my efforts, only to be compensated with this trial that has destabilised me.
“I still love this country but I have a pain in my neck. I have respect for government and its policies. If the Code of Conduct Bureau had invited me for clarifications on my asset forms, I would have honoured them because it is a simple thing to do and because my conscience is clear.”
He said the CCB never asked him for any clarification before he was charged with the offence of failing to declare a property.
The ex-minister had in his evidence claimed that he did not declare Plot 2057 in Asokoro District of Abuja because as at the time he was leaving government in 2011, he had sold off the land which was allocated to him by the government to pay for his house rent of two years.
Orubebe told the tribunal that the land in dispute was allocated to him by government but he sold it to his lañdlord, Barrister Akinwumi Ajibola for N10 million to offset the two-year house rent debt owed the landlord.
The former minister said it would have been criminal for him to have claimed ownership of the property he had sold and the Certificate of Occupancy handed over to the buyer before he left office.
He asked the tribunal to dismiss the charge against him because he did not breach any law as far as the property in dispute was concerned.
Another witness of the minister, Mr. Akinwumi Ajibola, confirmed that Orubebe was his tenant at Drive 2, House 3, Ministers Quarters, Mabushi, Abuja, and that the tenant was indebted to him to the tune of N10 million for two-year house rent.
The witness, who claimed to be a real estate developer and Chief Executive of Didention Properties Limited, informed the tribunal that Orubebe parted with the empty land allocated to him in lieu of the debt and that the certificate of occupancy was handed over to him at the end of the transaction.
Under cross-examination by the prosecutor, Mr. Mohammed Diri, who also happened to be the Director of Public Prosecution, the witness claimed that he did not register the Power of Attorney and the Deed of Assignment because what he bought was an empty land in the bush that could not be registered at the time.
The federal government had filed a four-count charge, bordering on false assets declaration and demanding and collection of bribe of about N70 million against the former minister.
hen it became clear that government could not substantiate the allegations contained in the charges, it amended the charge and reduced to only one.
At previous hearings before the amendment, the tribunal called on the state to call its witnesses but was unable to produce one and instead applied severally that the hearing be adjourned.
Orubebe had pleaded not guilty to the single count charge.