Alleged N80.2bn Fraud: Lawyer Receives Service of Charge on Behalf of Yahaya Bello

•EFCC insists on arrest warrant 

•Coalition urges agency to follow due process 

•Kogi youths protest  

Adedayo Akinwale, Alex Enumah in Abuja and Ibrahim Oyewale in Lokoja

Mr AbdulWahab Mohammed, SAN, yesterday, received the charge containing money laundering allegations against the immediate past governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, after the court gave the order.

Mohammed, who is the lead counsel to Bello in the suit by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), received the charge following the order of Justice Emeka Nwite of the Federal High Court, Abuja.

The issue of the arrest and prosecution of the former governor had generated tension both in Kogi State and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), where the anti-graft agency laid unsuccessful siege to arrest Bello last week.

While Nwite had in an ex-parte ordered the arrest of Bello, his brother judge at the Kogi State High Court ordered the same EFCC not to arrest Bello, without first seeking leave from the appellate court.

But Nwite, last week, adjourned to yesterday, to deliver ruling in the request by EFCC’s lawyer, Mr Kemi Pinheiro, seeking the service of the charge on Mohammed, who had challenged the warrant of arrest issued against Bello.

Pinheiro had claimed that the commission could not effect the order of arrest because someone with immunity had shielded Bello, when EFCC operatives attempted to arrest him at his Abuja residence last week.

Although at the hearing, Mohammed had refused service of the charge on the grounds that he was not mandated by the defendant to do so, prompting the instant ruling.

In his ruling, Nwite agreed with EFCC that having appeared for Bello in the last proceedings, it was only proper that Mohammed received the charge on behalf of the defendant.

Besides, the court observed that Section 379(3) and 382(4&5) provided that service of a charge on a defendant could be made on his lawyer where available. He added that since Mohammed had at the last sitting announced unconditional appearance for the former governor, then it was proper for the charge to be made on him.

The judge held, “In view of the forgoing, I am of the view that the application to serve the charge on his counsel is meritorious and I subsequently make an order to serve the bundle of charge with the prove of evidence.”

A mild drama ensued when Pinheiro insisted that the charge must be received by Mohammed and not his junior whom he had beckoned to receive it.

According to Pinheiro, the court specifically mentioned Mohammed and not his junior but, after many back and forth, Mohammed accepted the charge and endorsed it in court.

However, when Pinheiro moved to forward the endorsed charge to the court, Mr Adeola Adedipe, SAN, who was conducting the proceedings, objected, citing procedural breach. Adedipe said the endorsement could only be submitted to the court through an affidavit.

Nevertheless, the anti-graft agency prayed the court to discountenance request by Bello’s lawyer to set aside the warrant of arrest against his client, pending arraignment.

Adedipe argued that when the court granted the ex-parte, the charge had not been served, adding that the court ought to on its own have vacated the warrant order, following the service.

Adedipe informed the court that his client was worried about fair hearing and trial, hence the need for the arrest order to be vacated.

He said, “The court is expected to do justice at all times. A warrant of arrest cannot be hanging on Bello’s neck when we are in this court. It appears to us that the defendant will not get justice because the court granted warrant of arrest before service.”

Responding, EFCC’s lawyer argued that Bello could not be heard at all by the court, until he was first arraigned in court.

Pinheiro said, “The stage we are in now is to determine the whereabouts of the defendant (Yahaya Bello). All these applications by the defendant are to prevent his arraignment and frustrate the commencement of trial.”

The claimant’s lawyer assured the court that he would move for the setting aside of the warrant of arrest, if Bello’s lawyer could undertake to bring Bello in court physically for arraignment.

The matter was adjourned till May 10 for ruling.

Coalition Urges EFCC to Follow Process

A coalition of anti-corruption groups, led by Anti-Corruption and Research-based Data Initiative (ARDI), called on EFCC to follow due process in the prosecution of Bello.

Addressing a press conference in Abuja, John Ozigbo, said the coalition had over the last few weeks followed with keen interest the current impasse between EFCC and Bello, which culminated in the raid on his private residence in Abuja.

Ozigbo stated, “Our concern hinges on the need for both parties to work within the ambit of the Laws of the Federal Republic of Nigeria to avoid subjecting the war on corruption in this country to further odium in the eyes of right-thinking people, as well as do our bit to avert the ongoing and needless overheating of our polity.”

Kogi Youths Protest Plan to Arrest Bello

A league of youth groups, led by Coalition of Civil Society for Democracy, and Africa Youths Coalition for Justice, in Kogi State, protested plans by EFCC to arrest Bello over alleged N80.2 billion fraud.

The youths in their thousands gathered and barricaded the popular Lokoja-Abuja road, causing gridlock on the highway yesterday.

The youths accused the anti-graft agency of witch-hunting and victimising the former governor.

Addressing journalists in Lokoja, Convener, Coalition of Civil Society for Democracy, Richard Otitoleke, said the groups defending the rule of law and democratic governance.

They were seen carrying placards with various inscriptions, like “Nigeria is not a banana republic”, “President Tinubu, call EFCC to order”, “EFCC stop witch-hunting”, “Yahaya Bello remains a responsible citizen”, “EFCC obey court order now” and many more.

Comrades Ajibade Olamilekan David and Oluwa Kayode, who were members of the groups, also accused EFCC of engaging in a media trial of the former governor.

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