Attempt by the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami SAN, to take over the trial of a businessman, Dr. John Abebe, was yesterday vehemently resisted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) at the Special Offences Court in Ikeja, Lagos State.
The anti-graft agency had in July arraigned Abebe, who is a younger brother to the late former First Lady, Stella Obasanjo, before Justice Mojisola Dada on a four-count charge of forgery, fabricating evidence and attempt to pervert the course of justice.
According to the charge sheet, the EFCC accused Abebe to have on June 22, 2010, knowingly forged a letter dated November 30, 1995, and belonging to BP Exploration Nigeria Limited to that of his company, Inducon Nigeria Limited.
The defendant had however pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The trial had commenced with the anti-graft agency, calling two witnesses at the last adjourned date. When the case came up yesterday, shortly after the prosecution and defence counsel had announced their appearance, Malami, through a counsel from his office, Mr. Pius Akuta, rose and prayed the court for a short adjournment.
Akuta informed the court that he had the instruction of his boss (AGF) to seek a short adjournment in order to review the case file in view of the some latest developments in the case.
He added that a lot of petitions had come up which necessitated a review of the case.
Dangling a letter before the court, the counsel noted that Malami gave him instruction that the file be transmitted to him to enable him look into all pending petitions on the matter before him.
“The Attorney General of the Federation has received a petition from the defendant. In considering the petition, the AGF is seeking short adjournment of the matter and the duplicate of the file to enabling him look into it.
“I brought this to the attention of the prosecution and he said he has not been informed by the chairman of the EFCC.
“I want the court to take judicial notice of the letter,” Akuta submitted.
At this juncture, Justice Dada said she was not aware of any letter as nothing was before the court in that respect.
“Which letter are you talking about? I don’t know the letter which you are talking about. I cannot talk on what is not before me,” Justice Dada said.
In his response to Akuta’s prayer, lead prosecution counsel to the EFCC, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, vehemently resisted the take of the case.
He told the court that even if the AGF wanted to take over the case, there were some basic administrative procedures to be followed.
Oyedepo said the case is under the laws of Lagos State and as such, it is the state Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice that is the proper person to take over the case.
He urged the court not to be persuaded by the antics of AGF as he was a meddlesome interloper.
Oyedepo contended that since the proper administrative procedures were not followed, Akute could be on a personal mission.
The EFCC counsel told the court that he had had similar experiences in the past only to find out that it was false.
He said the court should not succumb to the antics of Akuta as the AGF knows what to do administratively if he has interest in the matter.
“The matter is for the continuation of today trial. I have two witnesses in this matter. I am the prosecutor and I’m not seeking any adjournment. I know that the AGF will not ask my friend to come and do what he is doing here. We are ready for today’s proceedings.
“If this has to be adjourned or taken over by the AGF, he knows what to do,” Oyedepo concluded furiously.
Not wanting to give in, counsel to the AGF reminded the court that the charge sheet has the ‘Federal Republic of Nigeria vs John Abebe’ and not Lagos State Government.
All other attempts by him to quote relevant sections of the law and constitution to buttress his point were to no avail as Justice Dada ruled that the case should proceed.
Also, attempts by Abebe’s counsel, Mr. Uche Nwokedi (SAN), who was the most senior lawyer in court to intervene in the heated argument was refused by the judge.
Oyedepo consequently called two of his witnesses-a staff member of the Federal High Court where the substantive commenced and an official of the EFCC who investigated the case.