Abebe vs Statoil: CAC’s Inability to Produce Documents Stalls Trial

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Davidson Iriekpen

The inability of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to produce the required documents for the defence to proceed its case last Friday stalled the trial of the Chairman of Inducon, Dr. John Abebe, at the Special Offences Court sitting in Ikeja.

Abebe was last July arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) before the court on a four-count charge of alleged forgery, fabricating evidence and attempt to pervert the course of justice.

He was accused 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 allegation was a fall-out of the legal battle between Abebe and Statoil Nigeria Limited over a breach of agreement for which judgments had been delivered in his favour by a Federal High Court and also by the Court of Appeal, and currently pending before the Supreme Court.

 When the trial resumed last Friday before Justice Mojisola Dada, a staff of the CAC, Mr. Christopher Ikem, informed the court that the CAC was still in the process of collating the documents necessary for Abebe’s defence.

He noted that some of the documents, which are dated as far back as 1992 need time to be put together.

Ikem who was subpoenaed to appear before the court, said he was directed from his head office to appear out of respect for the court.

He noted that though he might not be the one to appear on the next adjourned date, he just came to beg the court for time to put the documents requested together.

At this point, counsel to Abebe, Uche Nwokedi (SAN), requested for an adjournment of the trial to enable the subpoenaed CAC official bring the necessary documents to court.

But reacting, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, the lead prosecuting counsel for the EFCC, however, expressed displeasure over the defence counsel’s request for an adjournment.

Obliging Nwokedi’s request, Justice Mojisola Dada adjourned the case until July 10 and 11 for continuation of trial.

 Recall that the trial took a dramatic twist on last Thursday when a defence witness and Deputy Director of the National Archives, Mrs. Roseline Ovesuor, informed the court that based on the provisions of sections 37 and 38 of the National Archives Act, it was an offence for companies registered in Nigeria to take their records outside the country.

The documents, which were prepared by BP Exploration Nigeria Limited and Inducon Nigeria Limited (both Nigerian companies), were said by PW2 to have been produced from a privately managed archive in London known as Iron Mountain.

Nwokedi  had argued that the act of exporting or sending the documents to the United Kingdom for archiving is an offence prohibited by Nigerian law.

Flowing from the argument, Mrs. Ovesuor who represented the National Archives following a subpoena by the court, stated that by the provisions of sections 37 and 38 of the Act, it was an offence for a Nigerian company to take its records outside Nigeria.

The witness, who testified under examination-in-chief led by Nwokedi, said the Department of National Archives is responsible for the management and preservation of documents of historical value in Nigeria for federal ministries, parastatals, agencies, commissions as well as private companies, institutions, multinational companies and individuals.

She added that the National Archives is also mandated to assist ministries, agencies, departments at the federal level, state level, private organisations, business houses to establish their archives when necessary.

Mrs. Ovesuor, who said she has been working there for more than 30 years at the Department of National Archives of Nigeria,  noted that the National Archives Act is the law that regulates their activities and was promulgated in July 1992.

 She explained that in every organisation, public or private, there exist three levels of records: that is, current, semi-current and non-current.

She stressed that whether the organisation private or public, for as long as it is incorporated in Nigeria and is functioning in Nigeria, the law states that its records must be housed in the country.