By Epa Stevens
A High Court sitting in the Federal Capital Territory, Nigeria, has cleared a UK renowned medical doctor, Dr. Reuben Olu Obaro, and his wife, Ayodele, of corruption charges, falsely levelled against them by the Independent and Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC). In a recent 33-page ruling on the ‘No-Case Submission’ submission, Justice A.O. Ebong dismissed all the charges against the couple stating that the case was ‘frivolous’ and “unfair to the defendants, that a charge of this nature, unfounded in all ramifications, should have been brought against them.”
ICPC had, in an eight-count charge, accused the prominent radiologist and his wife, a practising nurse in the UK, of misappropriating part of the funds provided as a seed grant by SURE-P to support the setting up of a specialist stroke management hospital in Nigeria. Like all major grants, contracts, and transactions that were awarded prior to the current political administration, the couple’s project also became a subject of suspicion. Right from the beginning, questions abounded as to the real motive behind ICPC’s investigation when the couple had just hit the ground running with this gigantic project- first of its kind in Nigeria.
ICPC however, commenced a two-year investigation followed by a full-blown trial, which dragged on for another two years. During the trial, indications began to emerge that the prosecution had withheld important information from the court to nail the couple at all cost. For instance, the ICPC Prosecutor had gone to extreme length to conceal the couple’s personal significant financial commitment to the project by doctoring the bank statements presented as evidence. It was later established that the grant advanced had been used solely for the project, in addition to personal funds provided by the couple. Also, evidence unravelled during the trial indicates that neither the CEO (Dr Obaro), nor the COO (Mrs Obaro) had drawn any salaries from the project.
However, upon examining all the evidence and listening to all the witnesses against the defendants, Justice Ebong dismissed the case in totality, declaring that, “Having scaled through all the eight (8) counts of the charge, the three defendants are hereby discharged and acquitted.”
Dubbed the Stephen James Stroke Centre of Excellence, the awarded seed grant was to complement personal funds of the promoters for the development of a world-class specialist hospital for treating stroke patients and managing the rising incidence of stroke in the country and thereby reducing the number of persons travelling outside Nigeria to seek medical help. The project was designed to be built by funding from personal contributions, investors and both domestic and foreign loans with technical support well established abroad.
In setting up the project, the couple had leveraged on their extensive connections with overseas technical partners. According to Stroke Action Nigeria, stroke continues to affect about 200,000 people annually in the country. The successful setup of the stroke centre would not only have provided critical healthcare to thousands of stroke patients but would have also provided numerous jobs for Nigerians. Also, the centre would have contributed immensely to local capacity building by training personnel to manage the disease in Nigeria.
In his closing remarks during the judgement, which was delivered on the 21st of October 2020, the honourable justice reprimanded the prosecution for the potential damage this kind of frivolous trials have on the country and its citizens. “It is common knowledge that at various times the Federal Government has made efforts to rebuild the negative image of our nation in the international arena. This sort of dubious and frivolous attack on the character and reputation of citizens as exemplified in this trial, cannot aid that effort,” said Justice Ebong, “I believe it is high time for our investigation and prosecuting agencies to have a rethink on how they go about exercising their mandates. They should refrain from exercising their powers in a manner that inflicts on the citizens, what could only be described as malicious damage.”
The court also ordered that the land documents and funds arbitrarily seized from the couple by the ICPC during the investigation, should be returned. However, as at the time of writing this report, the prosecuting agency has not obeyed that order.
Reacting to the judgement, lead defence counsel, J.N. Egwuonwu (SAN), expressed his delight that the innocent couple has finally been exonerated and vindicated after being subjected to two years of sheer horror. According to him, “this ruling shows that justice is still being served in Nigeria. I congratulate Dr Obaro and his hardworking wife, who were planning to support the healthcare system in Nigeria with a laudable initiative, but instead had a harrowing two years defending themselves against frivolous and baseless charges. Hopefully, their travails will not discourage other well-meaning Nigerians in the Diaspora, that have plans to help develop the nation.”
Together, the couple run MACT-BRIDGE THE GAP, a family funded charity registered with the Charity Commission, UK. Through their charity, Dr and Mrs Obaro have run medical missions across Nigeria, sent medical equipment to medical facilities, books and computers to schools and awarded scholarships as well as supported orphanages over the years. Sources have it that the couple is presently part of a volunteer group building a multi-million-naira Hospital project in Dr Obaro’s hometown- Aiyetoro-Gbede, Kogi State that will not only benefit his people but the whole of Kogi State.
–J. N. Egwuonwu, SAN & Co., Plot 822 Durumi District, FCT- Abuja. Email: email@example.com