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N4.8bn audit report: Judiciary, again on the spotlight

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AKEEM NAFIU and TUNDE OYESINA write that five months after the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) published a report, indicting the judiciary as number two after police on corruption radar, another damning report by the Auditor-General of the Federation has again put the third arm of government on the spotlight. This time, the report accused the judiciary of defrauding the federal government of N4.8 billion in three years

Five months after a report by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) ranked the judiciary as number two most corrupt institution after police, the third arm of government is again being indicted in another report which spanned three years.
This time, the newest report released by the Auditor-General of the Federation has said the judiciary allegedly defrauded the federal government of N4.8billion in overpaid items and non-retirement advances.
Alarmed at this revelation, lawyers at the weekend were unanimous that a few judicial officers whose activities had branded the nation’s judiciary as corrupt must be exposed and weeded out of the system.
Apparently miffed by an audit report covering about three years by the Auditor-General of the Federation which revealed how the judiciary allegedly defrauded the federal government of N4.8billion through non-retirement advances, some senior lawyers yesterday asked the Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Walter Onnoghen to immediately launch a probe into the alleged N4.8billion fraud.
In August, NBS said incident of bribery in the judiciary came at a close second after the police with prosecutors and judges flagged as being among the most corrupt. Prevalence of bribery in the judiciary especially among prosecutors, judges and magistrates, according to the report put prosecutor at 33.6 per cent and judges and magistrates at 31.5 per cent.
But last month, an audit report prepared by the Auditor-General accused the judiciary of misappropriating about N4.8billion between 2012 and 2015.
According to the report, the alleged N4.8billion fraud was perpetrated through ghost contracts, non-remittance of taxes, failure of senior court officials to retire advances collected for assignments and refusal to repay vehicle loans, the audit report revealed.
Besides, it accused court officials of overpaying for items bought as many payments made were without receipts while discrepancies discovered in transcript and analysis book contrary to extant financial regulation.
For instance, in 2012, the audit report showed that N985 million (N984, 907, 060) was not accounted for.
In 2013, officials could not explain what they did with N71 million (N70, 959, 696) and in 2014, N1.4 billion (N1,446,767,605) was allegedly misappropriated through unlawful insurance policies, failure to pay taxes and missing documents to back expenditure.
The audit report in 2015 showed almost doubled that of the preceding year as the audit report revealed that officials of federal courts could not account for N2.4 billion (N2,389,583,032).
It indicted senior officials of the federal courts of not retiring advances paid to them as they did not retire N265 million (N265, 127, 309) granted as personal advances to carry out repairs or render services.
The report alleged that some officials got as many as 21 advances despite failing to retire previous advances contrary to the provision of Financial Regulation 1405 which stipulated that “accounting officers are responsible for ensuring the prompt repayment of all advances by installment or otherwise.”
It is also stated in Financial Regulation 1420 that “it is the responsibility of all accounting officers to ensure that all advances granted to officers are fully recovered.”
However, the audit report which revealed the alleged N4.8billion fraud in three years came barely five months after the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) published its report that judiciary was the second most corrupt institution in Nigeria.
With the audit report, corruption in the nation’s judiciary has again reared its ugly head. The audit report of the Auditor General of the Federation published said about N4.8 billion was either allegedly misappropriated or unaccounted for by officials of federal courts within three years.
Although the judiciary had dismissed NBS’ report, it admitted that “there is no denial of the fact that there are a few bad eggs in the judiciary, like in every other arm of government; at the same time, there are many honest and hardworking judicial officers and magistrates making the judiciary and the country proud.”
It went on: “The question that should agitate the minds of the people is the criteria used by the UNODC and the NBS to measure the level of bribe taking in the judiciary to grade it as the second largest receiver of bribe.
“For instance, what is the percentage of judges caught receiving bribe out of a total number of one thousand and fifty-nine (1,059) judges in both the federal and state judiciaries? What is the percentage of magistrates caught  taking bribe from an estimated total number of four thousand (4,000) in the country?”
However, barely five months after even as the dust generated by the NBS/UNODC report was yet to settle, another report alleging massive corruption in the judiciary had surfaced.
The report which allegedly emanated from the office of the Auditor-General of the Federation covering a 3-year period between 2012 and 2015 alleged illegal spending of taxpayers’ money by court officials in flagrant abuse of the Fiscal Responsibility Act.
Most of the money was reportedly said to have been siphoned through ghost contracts, non-remittance of taxes, failure of senior court officials to retire advances collected for assignments and refusal to repay vehicle loans.
Court officials were equally said to have overpaid for items bought and in other instances, many payments were made without receipts while wide discrepancies were also discovered in the transcript and analysis book, in contravention of the extant financial regulation.
A breakdown of the alleged fraud showed that in 2012 court officials could not account for N984, 907,060.
N70, 959,696 was said to have been misappropriated in 2013 while in 2014, the sum of N1, 446,767,605 was misappropriated through unlawful insurance policies, failure to pay taxes and missing documents to back expenditure.
However, in 2015, the audit report revealed that officials of federal courts could not account for N2, 389,583,032.
A common scheme said to have been employed by officials to steal funds was the award of ghost projects. Funds were released for projects that were either not executed or partially executed.
An instance was said to be in 2012, when the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal paid N20, 125,416 to five contractors for the supply of food supplements to judges and head of units.
However, an audit of the payment vouchers and distribution list made in respect of the supplements discovered that of 2,199 units of food supplement allegedly received; only 479 were distributed. Officials could not account for the balance of 1,720 units of food supplements valued at N15, 038,950.
The missing supplements were not included in the distribution list. They were also not physically available in the store as at the time of the audit.
The report indicated that on the whole, the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal could not account for N159, 906,776.
Also In 2012, officials of the Federal Capital Territory High Court were said to have charged contractors only half of the withholding tax for the N446,738,199 contract awarded for consultancy services for the construction of the FCT High Court Headquarters Complex, Wuse, Abuja.
“An examination of the relevant payment voucher revealed that instead of the 10 per cent mandatory Withholding Tax (WHT) for companies of N44,673,819 expected to be deducted at source and paid to the Federal Inland Revenue Services (FIRS) as directed by extant Financial circular, only 5 per cent withholding tax meant for individuals was deducted. Even the 5 per cent WHT was not fully deducted. Instead of N33, 336,909.00 only N21, 273,247.00 was deducted leaving a shortfall of N12, 063,662.00. On the whole, the sum of N23, 400,572.00 was under-deducted, thereby causing a loss of revenue to the government in violation of Regulation 234″, the report indicated.
The report also showed how contracts worth millions of naira were awarded in the judicial sector without Value Added Tax (VAT) and Withholding Taxes (WHT) deducted as statutorily required. About N47, 473,270 due taxes in this respect was said to have been unpaid within the period under review.

Lawyers speak
Apparently shocked that there could be a report indicting the judiciary, major stakeholders in the nation’s justice system including senior lawyers have expressed worry on whether the judiciary can truly live above board.
The lawyers – Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), Wale Adesokan (SAN), Dr Abdul Mahmud, Emeka Okpoko (SAN), Chief Adeolu Okesiji, Monday Ubani, Mr. Ebun Adegboruwa and Mohammed Fawehinmi were unanimous that an immediate probe must commence with a view to ridding the judiciary of bad eggs and bringing culprits to book.
Ozekhome said those behind the N4.8billion fraud should be exposed, investigated, derided, excoriated, prosecuted and punished adequately so as to serve as a lesson to themselves and others that crime was uncharitable even as no one was above the law.
He said: “The era of impunity should be over in the judiciary. Instead of taking a joint blame, any judicial officer that committed an offence should be made to face the music of such offence.
“For the coming year, the report showed that there is more work to be done by the judiciary so as to ensure that the integrity of the arm is sustained.”
Mr. Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria said judicial officers allegedly involved should be prosecuted and made to account for the missing funds.
He said: “Judges are not the accounting officers of the courts. The accounting officers should be made to account for the missing funds and prosecuted if it is established that the funds have been criminally diverted.”
To Adesokan, “the report is not conclusive. When an audit query is received, it is answered. Has the queries been answered? When an audit of an organization is done, questions that require answers were generated. So, as far as I am concerned, the audit report has generated questions in respect of the N4.8 billion which must be answered. Has it been answered? If yes, what were the answers? This is what we should address our minds to before jumping into any conclusion.
“I am not saying that there was no fraud but the audit queries must be answered and it would be on this basis that we would know how to react.”
Okpoko expressed concern over the delay in releasing the audit report.
He said: “Why would the Auditor-General wait till 2017 before releasing the report? Is that how things are done?
“Judiciary is an arm of government and corruption is not a peculiar thing to it. Corruption also happens in the other two arms of government- executive and legislature. I am not only bothered that this is being reported in the judiciary but also concerned that corruption is happening everywhere.
“You cannot single out the judiciary for vilification because it is a product of the Nigeria’s system. The rot is everywhere. Therefore, if there is any alarming situation, it is not only happening in judiciary, it cuts across.
“What is happening is a reflection of the deficiency in the orientation of the people. If corruption is going on in the judiciary, be assured that it is also happening in other arms of government. So, we should be alarmed at the rot everywhere and in every circle not only in the judiciary.”
Mahmud said the report had highlighted one of two things that must be looked into.
He said: “First, the corruption of the Judex, which is deep, goes beyond bribery of judges and magistrates. Here, we have a more serious case of criminal theft of revenues of the state by men and women who send ordinary citizens to prison for stealing things as small pots of soup. Don’t they have conscience?
“Second, that this revelation simply tells us that all facets of our national life, all branches of government, have their hands soiled. But, for the judiciary, all hands must be on deck to show corrupt officers the way out of the system. This will enhance sanity of the system.”

Adegboruwa said although it was the duty of relevant statutory law enforcement agencies to study the report and deal appropriately with those indicted, President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration had failed to do a thorough job by stopping at 2015 in the report coverage.
He said: “There seem to be a deliberate attempt by the present administration to paint the judiciary in bad light and keep it in the bad books of Nigerians. As it is clear from the report, it covers 2012 to 2015, cleverly excluding the period of the life of this administration.
“In a situation whereby the Buhari regime has been asking Nigerians to assess it based on its own performance, one would have loved to see the performance index of the judiciary under this dispensation.
“It is clear to me by now, that the preference for impunity has pitted this administration against the judiciary, which is the most potent organ of government, established to check impunity and the excesses of the executive.
Okesiji noted that although he was yet to see the report, he said if the report was true, the judiciary should sit tight in 2018.
He said: “What this report portrays is that corruption is still in the system. I know the present CJN had commenced some anti-corruption campaign. To my mind, such campaign should not just be a lip-service but should be followed by serious implementation.
“The judiciary which meant to be the last hope of the common man should not be seen as otherwise else there may be a breakdown of the system where everyone will resolve to self-help.
“I think everything still stops at the table of the CJN. My Lord should look into the report critically and take necessary actions against those indicted. The judiciary is known for a self- cleansing mechanism, whereby it punishes anyone within its system that is found guilty of wrong doing.
“The judiciary should start the year 2018 on a new slate.”
Ubani said: “I think it is alarming that the audit report is coming out in 2017. I am wondering what the Auditor General’s office is doing in the area of accounts auditing. This is because this audit report is supposed to be made available every year.
“But what I found out and heard, though not confirmed, is that most times, all these agencies settle the Auditor General’s office to overlook all the lapses, stealing and corruption in the system. It is worrisome that despite the existence of the office of the Auditor-General, corruption still pervades everywhere in this country. I think, that office is not veritable to check incessant cases of corruption that are killing this country.
“Therefore, that an audit report, covering 2012 and 2015 was released in 2017 is an indictment on the Auditor-General. If it is true that it was discovered that this huge sum of money was misappropriated by federal courts in Nigeria between those years and we are just hearing about it, it’s an indictment on the Auditor’s-General office. If I have my way, I will solicit that the man should be prosecuted for aiding corruption.
“Then secondly, if it is actually true that such money was misappropriated, it portends great danger.”
Fawehinmi urged the Auditor-General to publish the accounts from where the reports were procured and individuals involved.
“The judiciary still remains the most underfunded among the three arms of government. The Auditor-General must have procured his reports from a particular set of accounts and I want to urge him to publish those accounts.
“Besides, he should also indicate which courts are involved. This is because as it is now, I know that at the Federal High Court in Lagos, apart from the renovation being done there, the Annex has been under construction for years and it seemed abandoned. So, it is necessary that we know those who took that money without any exception,” he said.

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Law

$45m, N3.38bn loot: FG’s gain, Diezani’s loss

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AKEEM NAFIU writes that of the trillions of naira President Muhammadu Buhari at the weekend boasted to have recovered from alleged corrupt politicians, about $45 million and N3.38 billion was recovered from former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke

 

When President Muhammadu Buhari said three years ago that he would rid the nation of corruption and recover funds looted from the treasury, not many trusted his resolve to so do.

In his resolve, however, to tackle corruption head on, many powerful politicians accused of looting the nation’s treasury are facing charges in various courts.

Apart from their trial, many have forfeited property including cash running into billions of naira to the federal government.
Just last week, apparently expressing satisfaction on his administration’s war against corruption, President Buahri said “this is another milestone in our determined and collective fight against corruption.”

He went on: “Throughout my journey in national service and since 2015, I have made a very conscious decision to pursue a vigorous fight against corruption in public life.

“This is another milestone in our determined and collective fight against corruption.
“Since 2015, we have made significant progress in the fight against corruption. Everyone now knows that corrupt officials will be held to account, no matter how long it takes.

“We have recovered and are still recovering trillions of naira that were stolen in the past few years by people without conscience.
“We are pursuing recoveries everywhere and are making sure that anyone who has been found culpable is made to answer for his or her crime under the law.

“It is my hope and expectation that the judiciary, which is a critical stakeholder and partner in the war against corruption, would continue to collaborate with the executive to bring corrupt people to book.”

Of the trillions of naira already recovered from corrupt officials, N45million and N3.38billion had so far been recovered from a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), being led by Ibrahim Magu had instituted several cases against the former minister, occasioning court pronouncements leading to her forfeiture of several property worth billions of naira to the Federal Government.

The former minister, who was also the first female President of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), has so far forfeited $45 million and N3.38 billion to the Federal Government.

Mrs. Diezani, who has been in London after leaving office, has however continued to deny any financial misdeed.
She accused the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of severely maligning and persecuting her.

Cases leading to the forfeiture of Diezani’s property began on August 7, 2017, when Justice Chuka Obiozor of a Federal High Court in Lagos ordered permanent forfeiture of her $37.5 million mansion in Banana Island.

The judge had earlier on July 19, 2017, while granting of an ex-parte motion filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) directed the temporary forfeiture of the property designated as Building 3, Block B, Bella Vista Plot 1, Zone N, Federal Government Layout, Banana Island Foreshore Estate to the Federal Government.

The property containing 24 apartments, 18 flats and 6 penthouses were allegedly paid for in cash by Mrs. Diezani in 2013.
In making the final forfeiture order on the property, Justice Obiozor held “in the face of the publication, which I find in Exhibit B of the affidavit of compliance before me and there being no responses from any interested party, I have no other option but to grant the orders as prayed.”

The court equally directed the permanent forfeiture of $2,740,197.96 and N84, 537,840.70 realized as rents on the property to the government.
Giving further insight into how the property was acquired, the anti-graft agency in a 41-paragraph affidavit deposed to by one of its investigative officers, Abdulrasheed Bawa, averred that a lawyer, Nwokedi in alleged connivance with Diezani purposely incorporated a company, Rusimpex Limited on September 11, 2013 to facilitate the alleged fraud scheme.

Bawa averred further that upon Nwokedi’s interrogation, he explained that he had approached Diezani for opportunities in the oil and gas industry with the ex-minister suggesting that owing to his profession, it would be better if he would delve into management of landed property.

Bawa added that after accepting the offer, Nwokedi later registered Rusimpex Limited at the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
A lawyer in his law firm, Adetula Ayokunle and a Russian, Vladmir Jourauleu, were listed as Directors of the company, while the address of Nwokedi’s law firm in Ikoyi, Lagos was registered as the business address of Rusimpex Limited.

The deponent added that when Ayokunle was questioned by the EFCC, he explained that he only appended his signature on the CAC documents at Nwokedi’s instruction, while Jourauleu denied knowledge of the company.

“Sometimes in 2013, the former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, invited Nwokedi, the Principal Counsel of Stillwaters Law Firm, to her house in Abuja for a meeting where she informed him to incorporate a company and use same as a front to manage landed property on her behalf without using her name in any of the incorporation documents.

“She further directed Mr. Nwokedi to meet with Mr. Bisi Onasanya, the Group Managing Director of First Bank of Nigeria Plc., for that purpose.
“Mr. Stephen Onasanya was invited by the commission and he came and volunteered an extrajudicial statement wherein he stated that he marketed a property at Bella Vista, Banana Island, Ikoyi, Lagos, belong ing to Mr. Youseff Fattau of Ibatex Nigeria Limited to Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke and Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke later bought the property from Mr. Youseff Fattau, through her lawyer, Mr. Nwokedi, whom she introduced to him after which a payment for the said property was made through the Abuja office of First Bank of Nigeria Plc.

“First Bank of Nigeria Plc., through Mr. Barau Muazu, wrote to the commission and also volunteered an extrajudicial statement in writing that they made the payments totaling US37,500,000 to Ibatex Nigeria Limited & YF Construction Development and Real Estate Limited on behalf of Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke as they collected the entire cash from Alison-Madueke at her residence of No. 10, Fredrick Chiluba Close of Jose Marti Street, Asokoro, Abuja and paid into the First Bank of Nigeria Plc. accounts of Ibatex and YF Construction Development and Real Estate Limited on her instruction”, the deponent averred.

On October 11, 2017, another judge of Lagos Division of the Federal High Court, Justice Abdul-Azeez Anka, also ordered the permanent forfeiture of 56 houses situated in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja valued at $21, 982, 224 (about N3.3 billion) allegedly linked to Mrs. Diezani to the Federal Government.
The houses were allegedly bought between 2011 and 2013 by the former minister from proceeds of suspected unlawful activity during her tenure in office

The forfeited property included 21 mixed housing units of 8 numbers of four bedroom penthouse apartment; six numbers of three bedroom apartments; two numbers of three bedroom apartment and one number of four bedroom apartment, all en suit and located at 7, Thurnburn Street and 5 Raymond Street, Yaba, valued at N937 million and bought through Chapel Properties Ltd.

Others are 16 numbers of four bedroom terrace, located at Heritage Court Estate, Omerelu Street, Diobu GRA, Port Harcourt, River States, valued at N928 million and bought through Blue Nile Estate Ltd; 13 numbers of 3 bedroom with one room maid’s quarter, situated at Mabushi Gardens Estate, Plot 1205, Cadastral Zone B06, Mabushi, Abuja, valued at N650 million and bought through Azinga Meadows Ltd and six flats of three bedroom and one boys quarter, located at Plot 808 (135) Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, valued at N805 million and bought through Vistapoint property Development Ltd.
The order followed a motion by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), seeking the permanent forfeiture of the property.

The motion was brought pursuant to Section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and other Fraud Related Offences Act No. 14, 2006, Section 44 (2) (B) of the Constitution and the inherent jurisdiction of the court.

The anti-graft agency while urging the court to grant the motion argued that the property sought to be attached were reasonably suspected to be proceeds of unlawful activities.
Having listened to the submissions of EFCC’s lawyer, Anselem Ozioko, Justice Anka granted the motion as prayed.
In granting the motion, the judge noted that there was no response to the applicant’s motion on notice for final forfeiture by any of the respondents despite been served with the hearing notice.

“The only document seen in the court’s file is a motion filed by one, Nnamdi Ezewochi of the chambers of Babajide Koku (SAN) since September 7, 2017, seeking an order of court for the applicant to serve the 3rd to 6th respondents an earlier ex-parte motion already filed and granted by the court.
“The motion also seeks extension of time to hear the final forfeiture proceedings for the respondents to come and show cause. Their grouse was that the applicant failed to serve them the ex-parte motion.

“With due respect to the counsel, ex-parte motions by their nature, are not meant to be served, except when ordered by the court in line with the Federal High Court rules. The respondents’ applicants are however not before the court today to proceed with their application despite the service of hearing notice on them.
“The motion seems to have been abandoned by the respondents’ applicant and it is accordingly strike out.
“I have also read the affidavit of the 2nd respondent, Donald Chidi Amamgbo, explaining the role he played in the entire transaction and that he cannot stand in the way of the court to make any order it deemed fit to make in relation to the property.

“I have gone through the affidavit attached to motion for final forfeiture as well as the submissions of the EFCC’s counsel, A. B. C. Ozioko. The court has no option considering the incontrovertible evidence filed by the EFCC than to grant the application. The motion for final forfeiture is accordingly granted as prayed. All parties have a right of appeal”, Justice Anka held.

Joined as respondents in the suit are Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke (1st respondent), Donald Chidi Amamgbo (2nd respondent), Chapel Properties Limited (3rd respondent), Blue Nile Estate Limited (4th respondent), Azinga Meadows Limited (5th respondent) and Vistapoint Property Development Limited (6th respondent).
The last of such forfeitures happened on February 28 when Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of a Federal High Court in Lagos ordered permanent forfeiture of two penthouses valued at $4.764 million belonging to Alison-Madueke to the Federal Government.

The judge had earlier on December 5, 2017 after granting an ex-parte motion filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), ordered the temporary forfeiture of the two buildings described as Penthouse 21 building 5, Block C, 11 floor (Bella Vista Estate) Banana Island, Ikoyi and Penthouse 22, Block B (Admiralty Estate) also in Ikoyi, Lagos to the Federal Government.

In granting the final forfeiture of the houses, Justice Olatoregun said: “I have observed the facts and exhibits attached and I am also mindful that the second, third and fourth respondents have no objections to the application. I therefore, have no hesitation in ordering a final forfeiture of the property to the Federal Government.”

Joined as respondents in the suit marked, FHC/L/CS/1793c/17 are; Diezani Alison-Madueke, Donald Amamgbo, Schillenburg LLC and Sequoyah Property Limited.

In an affidavit in support of the motion deposed to by an investigative officer of the EFCC, Abdulrasheed Bawa, it was averred that during investigation into the ownership of the two property, one, Mr. Fadi Basbous, the Deputy Managing Director of YF Construction Development and Real Estate Limited, volunteered extra-judicial statement, wherein he stated that the two property which were sold at $3.570 million and $1.194 million respectively was owned by Sequoyah Property Limited and Schillenburg LLC.

The deponent also stated that the payments for the Penthouse 22, Block B, 8, Gerrard Road, Ikoyi and Penthouse 21, Building 5, Block C, 11 floor, Plot1, Zone N, FGN layout, Banana Island, Ikoyi, were made by one, Mrs. Angela Jide-Jones and Atlantic Energy Drilling Concept Limited.
It was further averred that the said Mrs. Angela Jide-Jones, was the wife of Jide Omokore, while the said Atlantic Energy Drilling Concept Limited, was registered and promoted by the said Jide Omokore.

The deponent also stated that Omokore paid for the property through his wife, Angela, and one of his companies and directed the developers of the property to sign agreements with Schillenburg LLC and Sequoyah Properties Limited, both of which were linked to Allison-Madueke.
According to the deponent, Schillenburg LLC was registered in Hong Kong, and was on March 30, 2012 transferred to Donald Chidi Amamgbo as the sole owner.

He further averred that Sequoyah Property Limited was registered in Nigeria on October 11, 2011 with fictitious names of Chukwudima Nwako and Olisa Eloka, as shareholders and directors.

The deponent added that Donald Chidi Amamgbo stated in his extra judicial statement that he incorporated Schillenburg LLC and submitted same to Allison-Madueke for a transaction.

The former minister was also named in some cases involving some politicians and officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
In one of such cases, an INEC official, Yisa Olanrewaju Adedoyin was on March 5, 2017, convicted by Justice Mohammed Idris of a Federal High Court in Lagos for receiving N70.05 million from the $115 million allegedly shared by Allison-Madueke to compromise the 2015 general election.
He was convicted based on a plea bargain arrangement he had with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

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Interview

Ofoke: How Ebonyi revived justice system

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Ebonyi State Justice Commissioner and Attorney-General, Chief Cletus Ofoke in this interview with UCHENNA INYA, speaks on justice delivery system, rule of law, police, prison reforms, among others

 

How has it been as Chief Law Officer in Ebonyi State?
Well, God has been faithful and government is a continuum. When I met activities in the ministry, I quickly adapted to them and started discharging my duties accordingly. So, it has been God all the way.

That ministry belongs to a lawyer and as a trained lawyer, nothing is strange to me. In terms of administration, I have the experience. I have run my law firm for seven years before I got the appointment. I have also held many positions of trust that had to do with administration. So, combining administration with practice of law to me is not a strange thing.

What is your assessment of justice system in the state?
In Ebonyi state judicial system, the spirit is very high. The justice sector to me, is living up to its expectations; it is not a one way traffic. There are stakeholders in the justice system; the judiciary, the prison and others. Those bodies brought together have been collaborating to ensure that justice is done to all manner of people in the state.

But as a ministry, we have been discharging that which the Constitution says we should do; we have been vetting files, filing information, ensuring that people who are not connected with any offence are discharged accordingly because that is our mandate and ensuring that people that has one case or the other in court are prosecuted accordingly.

Immediately I came in as Commissioner, I had a series of meeting with Heads of Departments of the ministry and in those meetings, we were able to marshal out points on how to deliver effectively on the issue of justice dispensation in the state and they all agreed that those points were apt and that they were going to abide by it.

I think the HODs are doing their best. One, no file from police stays more than a day in our ministry without being vetted. Immediately it is vetted, if we find out that there is a prima facie case established against the accused person, we charge that person accordingly. I have also made sure that the Department of Public Prosecution (DPP) is unburdened. In other words, I met backlog of cases files that were not given attention but immediately I came on board, I ensured that that those files were given urgent attention.

Again, the Department of Public Prosecution is a life wire of this ministry in terms of justice sector dispensation. Because of this, we injected more people into that department so that it will not lack manpower and that has really paid off because the law officers in that very particular department has to do with justice sector we are talking about and they are up and doing.

So, we brought on board people that are seasoned, people that have done the job for years and people that know what it takes to prosecute and what it takes to counsel where necessary. It has not been without challenges anyway but we have been able to surmount them.

The problems we are having is that at times we don’t get case files from police as quickly as possible the way they are supposed to be doing and that hinders the operation of justice dispensation in the ministry. By and large, the ministry is doing very well.

In what way would you say the backlog of case files you inherited affected justice delivery system?
The effect although we have cleared them, innocent people were languishing in prison. People that were not connected to the offences they were charged with were languishing, praying that God should intervene on their behalf. But with the promptness and with the zeal the people we have deployed to the ministry have shown, we have been able to clear those backlogs and that is what gave rise to filing of information.

In fact, more than 60 informations have been filed since I came on board and I can assure that authoritatively that we have discharged not less than 20 people.

This has to some extent decongested our prisons. Like I told you, justice sector is not about ministry of justice alone; we have other critical stakeholders. So, in terms of prison decongestion, that has really helped. Situations up to 50 files have been given attention by way of filing information and more are still coming. As a matter of fact, last week, the Department of Public Prosecution filed eleven information awaiting assignment by the state Chief Judge.

For the other ones, we discharged them because we looked at the files, why they were brought to prisons and we saw that they were innocent of the offences they were charged. When I came on board, we had about 70 case files that were not given attention but we have cleared them.

What role is the state government playing in prison decongestion?
The governor has done a lot in the area of prison decongestion. He is constructing an ultra-modern building for the state federal prisons which is about 90% completion.

He has also charged the state Advisory Committee on prerogative of mercy to be up and doing and that committee is headed by myself the Honourable Attorney General. The Advisory Committee on prerogative of mercy has met with the Chief Judge of the state; we have met up to three times and part of it is the release from prisons about 26 inmates sometime in February this year.

You can agree with me that a situation whereby 26 inmates were release from prisons will go a long way to decongest the prisons. So, the government is doing quite a lot. The Advisory Committee on prerogative of mercy is currently looking at cases of inmates who deserve to be granted state pardon.

How cordial is the relationship between your ministry and the security agents in the state?
The relationship is very cordial. Of course, we are all partners in justice delivery and when I came on board, the first point of call was to meet with the state Commissioner of Police, Titus Lamorde and we had a robust discussion on how to be getting case files from police as when due so that we can vet them accordingly in line with the directive court. And I can assure you that that meeting has yielded positive result because the office of the officer in charge of legal gives us attention. Anytime my ministry staff goes there to get those files for vetting, he treats that as a priority.

In respect to the prison, we are very strong partners in progress; the relationship is very cordial. In fact, you cannot talk about prison decongestion without involving the prison officials. The Controller of prisons is a wonderful woman; Mrs. Oputa is a good woman. She came up with an idea of decongesting the prison and that position of her gave birth to a meeting with the Chief Judge of the state which resulted to releasing of 26 inmates like I told you. If the relationship is not there, that wouldn’t have been possible. Other security agencies; SSS,
Civil Defence are good partners and we have not had any challenge resulting from their various offices. We work hand in hand to make sure that our state remains number one in terms of prison decongestion.
Is rule of law on trial in the state?
Well, you already know the answer. In Ebonyi state, everything is done according to the rule of law and the dictates of the law.
Our governor believes in due process and let me inform you that he has not only been acknowledged in Ebonyi state, in the south east, but in Nigeria. He has won prestigious award of Ambassador of rule of law, good governance and anti-corruption.

That summarizes the state of rule of law in Ebonyi state. For somebody to have won the laurels among other states, tells you that in Ebonyi state law is supreme.

In terms of checks and balances, in terms of accountability, in terms of due process, our governor is number one. Whatever he does, he ensures that it is backed up by law. He is a man that listens to the wise counsel of not only jurists but also the ministry of justice which primary role is to advise government on law. And you can see that in the state, people can sleep with their eyes closed because of the attention he has given to security, because of the attention he has given to human empowerment.

In terms of the legislature, the Ebonyi state House of Assembly is an organ of government that does its own constitutional job the way it pleases the Honourable members. His Excellency, the governor does not interfere with the running of the House of Assembly.

They are free to legislate on any matter that has direct positive bearing on the people of the state and that is democracy and that is the rule of law we are talking about.

So, if our governor does not believe in rule of law, he would have been interfering with the functions of the legislative arm of government and that of the judiciary. Our Judges go about dispensing justice; our government does not interfere with how judgments are giving. In fact, some judgments are even given against government and government obeys them. We advise government and government to obey them. So, rule of law reigns supreme in Ebonyi state.

What role would the newly created Criminal Prosecution department play in justice system?
It is to monitor the inflow of criminal cases in all the courts in the state. I told you that we vet files and other things we do to ensure that there is justice delivery in the state.

The department is a very vital department in the ministry of justice and it has helped to a very large extent in ensuring that criminal prosecution go very well in the state.

The job of the Senior Special Adviser to the Governor on Criminal Prosecution, who is in charge of that department, does not stop at criminal prosecution. It looks at other cases that of interest to both government and individuals.

In other words, inferring with the police, the office of the O/C legal, the Nigerian prisons, the DSS because these are the agencies responsible for apprehension of criminals. He interfaces with those security agencies in respect to criminal matters that are to be given attention by both the agencies and the ministry of justice.

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Law

‘Why pupilage is sacrosanct’

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Emmanuel Oche Ochai attended Benue State University, Makurdi and was called to the Bar on November 13, 2007. He speaks on his career, judiciary, fond memories, among others. AKEEM NAFIU met him

 

Background
He was called to the Bar about a decade ago having obtained his LL.B degree from the Benue State University and a BL after one year compulsory training at the Nigeria Law School.

Emmanuel Oche Ochai, now an associate partner at the law firm of B. Aguegbodo & Co., attended Boys’ Secondary School, Gindiri, Plateau state for his secondary education.
He, however, shared his foray into the legal profession with New Telegraph this way:

“My name is Emmanuel Oche Ochai. I had my primary school at the National Veterinary Research Institute staff Nursery/Primary School, Vom, Plateau State between 1986 and1995. I proceeded from there to the Boys’ Secondary School, Gindiri, Plateau State between 1995 and 2001 and Benue State University, Makurdi, where I studied law from 2001 to 2006. Thereafter, I moved to the Nigerian Law School, Lagos Campus, between 2006 and 2007. I am presently pursuing my Masters at the University of Lagos, Akoka. I was called to the Nigerian Bar on November 13, 2007. I practice presently in Lagos with the law firm of B. AGUEGBODO & Co.”

Why law?
Growing up as a kid, I watched a lot of movies and was privileged to read a lot of novels as well. Whenever I came across a character in those books and movies who was a lawyer I really admired those characters especially the ones I saw in those movies. All I wanted was to be like those lawyers I watched and read about. I guess that was a major factor in my decision to be a lawyer today.

First day in court
My first day in court was at the High Court of Ondo State, in Akure, as a corps member. I was asked by my principal to move a motion ex-parte. I participated in moot court sessions in my university days and as such I was familiar with the procedure of moving a motion and being the most junior counsel in court that day, my matter was called last. By then, I had watched senior and experienced lawyers move different applications, so, I learnt a lot. When it got to my turn, it was a smooth ride.

Embarrassing moment
My most embarrassing moment in court was years back when I newly started practice. I was arguing an application and I relied heavily on a particular law. Unknown to me, the law had been repealed. The court drew my attention to the fact that the law has been repealed. People in court were all laughing at me. It was really embarrassing.

Fond memories
I have a lot of fond memories in this profession, like the first case I handled a case from beginning to the end and judgment was delivered in my favour. But one that will always stand out for me happened in my very early days in practice. I appeared before the High Court in Lagos and the matter was for hearing. The counsel on the other side was a very experienced and senior lawyer. I was appearing in the case for the first time that day. The other counsel noticed my inexperience and naivety, so he decided to take full advantage of the situation. The judge noticed what was going on and stylishly hinted me to take an adjournment so I can be better prepared. The experience really gave me faith in the system and the icing on the cake was that judgment was delivered in my favour in that case.

Pupilage
There are a lot of things that cannot be taught in the classroom as far as this profession is concerned and that is where pupillage comes into play. It is advisable that young counsel should find good law firms and attach themselves where they can learn a lot of things. Pupillage is very important and I support it.

Judiciary of my dream
Autonomous judiciary, an impartial judiciary, a judiciary that dispenses justice without fear or favour and without delay is my dream judiciary that will embrace the development and innovations in the I.T. world, where one will from the convenience of his office file a process in court. Also, my dream judiciary is the one that will be the last hope of the common man.

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