A former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, has urged the Federal High Court in Lagos to compel the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) to bring her back to Nigeria from the United Kingdom, where she travelled to shortly after leaving office in 2015.
She said she would like to appear in court in Nigeria to defend a criminal charge bordering on the alleged laundering of N450 million, where her name was mentioned.
The main defendants in the charge are a senior lawyer, Mr. Dele Belgore (SAN), and a former Minister of National Planning, Prof. Abubakar Suleiman.
Belgore and Suleiman were charged before Justice Rilwan Aikawa for allegedly collecting N450 million from Alison-Madueke and laundering same in the build-up to the 2015 general election.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which filed the charges against the duo, claimed that the N450 million was part of the sum of $115million which Alison-Madueke allegedly doled out to compromise the 2015 elections.
Belgore and Suleiman were arraigned on a five-count charge, wherein Alison-Madueke’s name was mentioned but she was declared as being at large.
At the resumed hearing of the case Tuesday, one Obinna Onya, a lawyer from Abuja, appeared before Justice Aikawa with an application seeking to join Alison-Madueke as one of the defendants in the charge.
The application, filed pursuant to Section 36(1)(5)(6)(a)-(e) of the Constitution and Sections 216(1)(2)(3)(4) and 217 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), is seeking an amendment to the charges against Belgore and Suleiman, so as to join Alison-Madueke as one of the defendants.
The lawyer contended that contrary to the declaration by the EFCC that Alison-Madueke was at large, the former minister was in the UK and was willing to return to Nigeria so that she could appear in court to take her plea and defend the charges.
The lawyer argued that since her name was mentioned in the charge, it would be against her right to fair hearing for the case to proceed without affording her the opportunity to defend herself.
“The statement made by the prosecution means that the applicant (Alison-Madueke) is going to be convicted without being given the opportunity to defend herself,” Onya told Justice Aikawa.
The application prayed for an order “mandating the Attorney General of the Federation, being the agent of the complainant, to facilitate the prompt appearance of the applicant in court on the next adjourned date, to take her plea and to defend the allegations made against her in counts 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the charge, numbered FHC/L/35c/2017”.
Onya urged Justice Aikawa to hear and determine the application before proceeding with the case.
But the EFCC counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, opposed him, saying the application was not ripe for hearing as he was yet to be served.
However, Onya told the court that he had attempted to serve Oyedepo Tuesday morning in the court premises but that the prosecutor declined, adding that his effort to serve the application at the EFCC office last Friday was also frustrated.
But Oyedepo advised him to go and serve the application at the registry of the EFCC, assuring him that the application would be accepted.
Responding, Justice Aikawa said the court could not entertain the application until all the parties had been properly served.
Meanwhile, the trial proceeded with the second witness for the EFCC, Usman Zakari, continuing his testimony.
Through the witness, Oyedepo tendered two letters written to the EFCC in relation to Standard Charted Bank Nigeria Limited and Guaranty Trust Bank Plc.
The court admitted the two letters as exhibits in evidence against the defendants.
However, Oyedepo’s attempt to tender an electronic mail communication between Alison-Madueke and the Managing Director of Fidelity Bank Plc was resisted by the defence counsel, Mr. Ebun Shofunde (SAN) and Olatunji Ayanlaja (SAN).
They contended that the document was not admissible, as according to them, it did not meet the requirement of the Evidence Act.
Oyedepo sought an adjournment to counter the objection by the defence.
Justice Aikawa adjourned till Wednesday for the continuation of trial.
In the charges, Sulaiman, a Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Abuja, and Belgore, a former governorship aspirant in Kwara State, were accused of conspiring between themselves to commit the offence on March 27, 2015.
The duo was accused of making a cash transaction of N450 million on March 27, 2015, without going through a financial institution.
They pleaded not guilty to the charges.