By Alex Enumah
The Court of Appeal, Abuja Division, on Tuesday, dismissed the appeal filed by a former Kano State House of Representatives member, Hon. Farouk Lawan, seeking to terminate the $3 million bribery charges brought against him by the federal government.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) had arraigned Lawan on a three-count criminal charge bordering on alleged bribe to the tune of $3 million.
He was accused to have demanded the sum of $3 million from Mr. Femi Otedola to remove his company’s name, Zenon Oil, from among the list of companies under investigation by the legislature on alleged subsidy fraud.
He was said to have received the sum of $500,000 from Otedola as part payment of the alleged $3 million bribe, when he was Chairman of the House Committee on Oil and Gas.
He had approached the Court of Appeal to set aside the decision of Justice Angela Otaluka of an High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), which rejected his no-case submission in the bribery trial.
However, the appellate court in a unanimous decision, held that a prima facie case was well established against him that would warrant him to enter his defence in the matter.
In the judgment delivered by Justice Olabisi Ige, the Court of Appeal held that the decision of the lower court was well founded.
According to Justice Ige, contrary to the argument of Lawan, the prosecution’s evidence at the trial court was not in anyway discredited, hence the rejection of his no-case submission.
The appellate court also held that the language of the trial judge, Justice Otaluka, which Lawan complained about, did not place him in any disadvantaged position or was in anyway inimical to his trial.
Justice Ige, who quoted copiously from the records of proceedings of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, especially the testimonies of the five witnesses called by the federal government, upheld the findings of Justice Otaluka that there were sufficient evidence linking Lawan to the offences.
He accordingly dismissed the appeal and upheld the ruling of the trial court which had ordered Lawan to enter his defence in the alleged bribery trial.
Justice Otaluka had, last year, dismissed the no-case submission filed by Lawan in his alleged $3 million bribery trial.
After the prosecution closed its case last year after calling five witnesses, Lawan, through his counsel, Mike Ozekhome (SAN), had filed a no-case submission on the grounds that the evidence and testimonies did not link Lawan to the crime.
According to Ozekhome, the prosecution’s witnesses gave conflicting statements about the amount Lawan was alleged to have collected from the fifth prosecution witness, Mr. Otedola, who offered the alleged bribe to Lawan.
In addition, Ozekhome argued that the video evidence showing how Lawan collected bribe from Otedola was blurry and does not necessarily prove that the content of the envelope Otedola gave to Lawan was money but could have been anything else.
Ozekhome further submitted that if the Department of State Services (DSS) had any evidence they would have arrested Lawan immediately at the scene of the bribery which they claimed they set up.
Responding, the prosecution lawyer, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), urged the court to dismiss the no-case submission and order the defendant to enter his defence because the prosecution had established sufficient evidence through video and oral testimonies which linked Lawan to the alleged offences.
In her ruling, Justice Otaluka agreed with the submission of Awomolo and ordered Lawan to open his defence.
Miffed with this decision, Lawan had approached the appellate court to set aside the decision of Justice Otaluka and free him from the charges.