â€ŽThe assurances secured from the AttorneyÂ General of the Federation and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agent by Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court are what Senator Buruji Kashamu needed to enjoy his freedom unmolested, writes Daidson Iriekpen
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice (AGF) and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) last week committed themselves to a declaration that they would not extradite Senator Buruji Kashamu to face drug-related offences in the United States until all court actions in respect of his extradition were resolved. Both the AGF and NDLEA made the declaration in the court processes they filed before the Federal High Court in Abuja.
Kashamu, who is representing Ogun West in the Senate had dragged the two agencies before the court seeking their committal to prison over allegations that they were planning to forcibly abduct him to the US to face drug-related offences. However, at the hearing of the matter, Kashamu told Justice Gabriel Kolawole through his counsel, Chief Akin Olujimi (SAN), that the AGF and NDLEA had agreed not to extradite him until all the court actions in respect of the case hadÂ been resolved.
Olujimi said in view of the assurances from the two parties, there was no need to pursue the contempt proceeding against them at the Federal High Court. He applied to the judge to grant him leave to withdraw the suitÂ in view of the assurances not to extradite him to US until all cases are fully resolved. The counsel told the judge that both parties would now go back to the Court of Appeal to continue with the appeal cases that emanated from the refusal of the Federal High Courts to grant the extradition request.
Counsel to the AGF, Mr. Tanko Ashang, a Deputy Director and Head of Central Authority in the Federal Ministry of Justice and that of the NDLEA, Mr. Mike Kassa, did not object to the withdrawal of the case and the resolve to go to the Appeal Court to pursue all pending appeals.
Consequent upon the assurance, Justice Kolawole in his brief ruling, granted him leave to withdraw the suit and endorsed the decision to shift to the Court of Appeal for the pursuit of the appeals. â€œIn the light of the application of the applicant to withdraw this suit and to move to Court of Appeal to pursue all pending appeals in respect of the extradition matter, leave is hereby granted for withdrawal of this suit,â€ the judge ruled.
The NDLEA had in January revealed that plans were ongoing to push for Kashamuâ€™s arrest. It predicated its decision on theÂ ruling of a United States’ court which ruled that the senator must face trial on drug-related charges. The agency stated that it would ensure that the orders stopping the arrest of the senator were vacated to pave the way for his extradition, noting that it would not undermine the extradition agreement that Nigeria had with the US with respect to the case involving the senator.
Trouble started for Kashamu after his return from the Republic of Benin where he was one of the most successful businessmen. As soon as he landed in Nigeria, with his stupendous wealth, he quickly became a prominent figure in the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and soon hijacked the party structure from those he met there, starting with Ogun State, from where he moved to the South-west geo-political zone. At the time, he was the darling of eminent politicians including the then President Olusegun Obasanjo.
Soon after, he fell out of favour with Obasanjo who promptly wrote an 18-page letter to the then President Goodluck Jonathan in December 2013. The former president in his letter, rejected Kashamu as the leader of the PDP in the South-west, alleging that he (Kashamu) was wanted in the US for drug-related offences.
However, Kashamu denied the allegation, saying the former president was not happy that he was chosen as the PDP leader in the South-west. Since then, the senator has remained embattled, constantly sleeping with one of his eyes opened. He later contested and won election to represent Ogun East in the Senate. This even infuriated those who wanted him extradited to the US the more.
A few months to his inauguration as a senator, Kashamu still afraid that he could be abducted, filed a suit before a Federal High Court in Lagos accusing Obasanjo of working in concert with others to mastermind his arrest during his swearing-in as a senator. He alleged in the suit that the former president had concluded plans for him to be transported to the US in a private plane to face trial.
Kashamu stated that Obasanjo was desperate to deny him the opportunity of enjoying the mandate freely given to him to represent the people of Ogun East senatorial district in the Senate. In a fundamental human rights enforcement suit against the Chairman of the NDLEA and 11 others, he prayed the court for an order to stop the alleged plot to extradite him to the US.
He also asked for a declaration of the court that the move to abduct and forcibly transport him to the US amounted to a violation of his right to liberty, freedom of association and freedom of movement as protected by Sections 35, 40 and 41 of the Constitution.
While the suit was pending, the NDLEA in May 2015 attempted to arrest him. Kashamu again, sued the NDLEA, the AGF and others before Justice Okon Abang also of the Federal High Court seeking to restrain them from arresting and extraditing him. The judge heard the case on May 8, 2015, during which the NDLEA, AGF and other defendants denied making any such move and urged Justice Abang to dismiss the suit for being speculative and showing no reasonable cause of action.
After hearing the case on May 8, Justice Abang reserved his judgment till May 27, 2015. But between May 23 and 25, 2015, operatives of the NDLEA laid siege at Kashamuâ€™s house in Lekki, Lagos, trying to arrest him, for the purpose of extraditing him. He, however, locked himself in and refused to turn himself over for arrest. The senator later commenced contempt proceedings against the NDLEA, AGF and others before Justice Buba, alleging that the move to arrest him would be prejudicial to Justice Abangâ€™s judgment, which was reserved for May 27, 2015. Justice Buba agreed with Kashamuâ€™s lawyer, Dr. Alex Izinyon (SAN), and ordered the NDLEA operatives to vacate the senatorâ€™s house.
Justice Abang later delivered his judgment on May 27, 2015, barring the NDLEA, AGF and others from arresting and extraditing Kashamu. The judgment was later affirmed on June 8, 2015 by Justice Buba, who also held that Kashamu could not be extradited unless Justice Okon Abangâ€™s judgment was set aside by the Court of Appeal.
To the surprise of everybody, in his last few days in office, precisely on May 28, 2015, the then AGF, Mohammed Adoke (SAN) initiated an action marked No. FHC/ABJ/CS/479/2015 before Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal High Court in Abuja seeking a warrant for Kashamuâ€™s arrest.Â The action, according to him, was based on an affidavit deposed to by Assistant US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Diane MacArthur, attached to the extradition request from the US government, dated April 27, 2015.
But in his judgment on July 1, 2015, Justice Kolawole said he was unable to grant the AGFâ€™s request because of the two earlier judgments of Justices Abang and Buba, which had barred the federal government from extraditing Kashamu.
However, Kashamu has consistently maintained his innocence. He has accused his political foes of being behind his travails. He also accused them of twisting the ruling of the US court over his exÂtradition trial. The senator said the case brought against him by the US government had been laid to rest by two British courts 14 years ago, and three Nigerian courts in 2015, all of which he said were not appealed. He added that all the US could do was to â€œabductâ€ him, claiming that no extradition proceedings could be lawfullyÂ commenced against him. He claimed that he was mistaken for his younger brother, Adewale Kashamu, and was 14 years ago erroneously prosecuted by the US government in two English courts before he was exonerated.
On many occasions, he had produced documents to show that even the NDLEA which is now turning around to pursue his extradition, once went to the United Kingdom in 2002 to testify in his favour of Kashamu. He said even in 2013, the agency deposed to an affidavit that Buruji was not the same Kashamu that was indicted by a US court.
Tracing the genesis of his travail, Kashamu said while on a business trip to the UK in 1998, he was arrested at City Airport in London and detained, pursuÂant to an arrest warrant issued on the basis of an indictment in the US in which the name Alaji had been introduced as a party to an alleged offence of importation of narcotics. He denied ever visiting or reÂsiding in the US, as well as being involved in any business or criminal activity whatÂsoever in the US.
The senator disclosed that his lawyers discovered some exculÂpatory evidence which the US government had concealed from the courts in the extradition proÂceedings. The evidence, he said, was the outcome of a photo identification parade for the purpose of identiÂfying the Alaji held in the US AtÂtorneyâ€™s office.
After the US court ruling, Kashamu had issued another statement titled: â€˜US court rulingâ€™Â where he said: I have no case to answer,â€™ claiming that he has never been to US in his life. He said he was not the offender wanted in the US, but his younger brother, Adewale Kashamu, who is now late.
He stated: â€œMy brother was living in Chicago, I sent him to school. Heâ€™s very well educated. He was the one having girlfriends there; he was the one who caused a lot of problems. Even when I was in London, they still traced almost $2million into his bank account while I was in prison; they still continued doing the transaction. If you go through the last British judgment, it is there. The Interpol people were the ones who went to the bank and got all the information, and carried all the documents, they came to London and gave evidence in court.
â€œThe Beninoise Interpol produced evidence showing that the Benin telephone number, through which the US offenders communicated with their West African collaborators, belonged to my brother, Adewale Kashamu, and not me, Buruji Kashamu.â€
Many analysts are wondering if the NDLEA actually went to London to testify in favour of Kashamu, why has it not maintained that position. What has changed? They equally wondered why it has refused to exhaust all the legal options before thinking of extraditing the senator rather than resorting to illegality.