Alex Enumah in Abuja
A mild drama ensued wednesday at an Abuja High Court as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) expressed ignorance of the arraignment of former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Mohammed Adoke (SAN), and six others.
Adoke and the other respondents were to be arraigned on a fresh 42-count charge over their alleged complicity in the $1.1billion Malabu oil deal.
The others are Mr. Aliu Abubakar, Mr. Rasky Gbinigie, Malabu Oil and Gas Limited, Nigeria Agip Exploration Limited, Shell Ultra Deep Limited and Shell Nigeria Exploration Production Limited.
In the fresh charge with number CR/151/2020, filed at the Abuja High Court, the federal government accused Adoke and other respondents of receiving gratification to carry out a fraudulent oil deal.
However, when the case was called, lawyers announced representation for the respondents except the fourth, Malabu Oil.
A representative of the oil firm, however, informed the court that their lawyer was not in court because he was not aware that the matter was coming up yesterday.
He said he only came to the court to make enquiries about the case when he learnt that the matter was coming up in the afternoon.
When asked if the fourth respondent was served, he said he could not confirm that. However, counsel to the EFCC, Mr. Bala Sanga, told the court that the fourth defendant was yet to be served.
He further stunned the court when he said he did not know why Adoke and others were in court.
“We only served fifth, sixth and seventh respondents” he said adding: “We don’t know why we are here.”
While giving the hint that the commission had planned the arraignment of the defendants for tomorrow, the EFCC lawyer said: “We are at a shock as to how they got here.”
Adoke and Gbinigie were brought to court by the EFCC while the second defendant came to court on his own. The fourth to seventh defendants are corporate entities.
Sanga, however, did not explain why the first to fourth respondents were yet to be served, particularly Adoke, and the third respondents who are in the custody of the EFCC.
In a response to the question of the trial judge, Justice Idris Kutigi, on why respondents were in court when they have not been served with the charge, counsel to the third respondent, Chief Wole Olanipekun (SAN) said jokingly, “We saw him (Sanga) coming to court; so, we followed him.”
However, lawyers to the respondents prayed the court to continue with the arraignment since the respondents were already in court.
Lead counsel to the former AGF, Mr. Paul Erokoro (SAN), told the court his client was ready to waive the right of service and is ready to take his plea, adding that the bail application in the said charge has been filed and served on the prosecution.
Similarly, Olanipekun, counsel to the second defendant, said he was ready to proceed with the trial, adding that a representative of his client has signed and picked up the charge against the second defendant from the prosecution.
“The third defendant was invited and detained, he has been in custody since then and the prosecution amazingly brought him to court only to say he has not been served,” Mahmoud Mogaji (SAN), counsel to Gbinigie told the court.
Another senior lawyer, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), who told the court that he had tried without success to get the charge against Adoke from the EFCC, said they got to know Adoke and others would be arraigned yesterday from the internet.
Justice Kutigi, however, declined to go on with the arraignment on the grounds that service of court process is first and primary before arraignment.
“All parties ought to be served before arraignment,” he said and subsequently adjourned till today to enable service on all parties.
He also ordered service of bail applications for the defendants on the prosecution.
According to the charge, the former AGF in August 2013 in Abuja while serving as a minister knowingly received United State dollars equivalent of N300 million, which is reasonably suspected of having been unlawfully obtained and thereby committed offence punishable under Section 319A of the Penal Code, Cap. 532 Laws of the federation of Nigeria 1990.
The federal government’s charge signed by Sanga on behalf of the EFCC Acting Chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, said Gbinigie conspired with Munamuna Seidougha (at large), Amaran Joseph (at large) and Dauzia Etete (at large), in 2013 in Abuja, dishonestly used as genuine the forged form CAC 7 and board resolution of Malabu Oil and Gas Limited and the letter of resignation of one Mohammed Sani to open a bank account No. 2018288005 with First Bank of Nigeria Plc to receive $401,540,000.00.
According to the charge, the accused persons committed an offence contrary to section 366 of the Penal Code and punishable under the same section of the Penal Code.
In count seven, Adoke was said to have in September 2013 knowingly and unlawfully obtained the sum of US dollars equivalent to N367,318,800 and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 319A of the Penal Code, Cap.532 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 1990.