The dust raised over the alleged withdrawal of criminal charges against a former Minister of Petroleum Resource, Diezani Alison-Madueke, is yet to settle as a pressure group, Northern Youths in Defence of Democracy and Justice (NYDDJ), has jumped into the fray, dismissing denials by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) that the charges have not been dropped but split.
Diezani and four others are under indictment by the anti-graft agency for money laundering and other related financial crimes.
Alison-Madueke’s four co-defendants in the case are former Executive Director of First Bank, Mr Dauda Lawal, the Managing Director of Fidelity Bank, Nnamdi Okonkwo, the former Executive Director of Sterling Bank, Lanre Adesanya and the former Group Executive Director of NNPC, Stanley Lawson.
It was however reported in the media recently that the Commission had dropped the original 14-count charge against them.
In a statement at the weekend, the NYDDJ criticised the anti-graft agency over the sensational reports and advised it to retrace its steps and go back to the spirit of the EFCC (Establishment) Act.
It would be recalled that after the media last week reported that the EFCC had withdrawn a 14-count money laundering charge against the former Petroleum Minister and four others at a federal high court sitting in Lagos, the anti-graft agency had quickly issued a rebuttal, urging the public to ignore the reports, calling the news false and misleading.
In a series of tweets on its verified Twitter account, the EFCC had explained that it never dropped charges against the former Minister, but split them to allow for a fresh arraignment.
It explained that the only development in the case was that the Commission took a prosecutorial decision to split the initial 14-count charge to enable separate arraignment of defendants following a spate of adjournments that prevented arraignment of the defendants more than one year after the case was listed.
“The charges were first filed on November 28, 2018. Since then, every attempt to arraign the defendants had been frustrated by one excuse or the other,” the Commission explained.
“In more than four times that the matter was called for arraignment, it was either Lanre Adesanya was sick, bedridden in a London Hospital or Nnamdi Okonkwo was hypertensive and on admission in a hospital or Stanley Lawson had had a domestic accident and could not appear in court.”
Responding to the development, however, the NYDDJ, which says it has been following developments in criminal proceedings against prominent Nigerians in the last four years, said that the EFCC was not being truthful.
A statement by Abba Yahaya on behalf of the group said: “Following the controversy trailing the present status of the case in question, we are constrained to issue this public statement as patriotic Nigerians committed to the Nigerian project, who believe that institutions like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which are funded by taxpayers and are supposed to be answerable to Nigerian citizens, need to be transparent and honest about their actions.
“From our findings, we make bold to say that the rebuttal by the EFCC is a deliberate effort to distort the facts and mislead Nigerians as to the event that happened in open court and which was widely reported by several news media.
“For instance, in the rebuttal, the EFCC laboured to explain that it never withdrew charges against all the accused persons but that it took a prosecutorial decision to split the charges. Whereas, the truth is that the EFCC withdrew the charge containing all the original names of the defendants and filed an amended charge retaining only the name of Dauda Lawal.
“It is elementary that you cannot file an amended charge in court without withdrawing the old charge. It is also elementary that as soon as the court is seized of the amended charge, the old charge becomes non-existent in the face of the law.
“If EFCC still claims that the charges against Diezani, Okonkwo, Lawson, Adesanya and Mr. Otti are still in place, we ask them to show us the charge sheet.
“Again, in its statement, the EFCC claimed that its decision to withdraw against all the other co-accused and retain only Mr. Lawal on the amended charge sheet, was a prosecutorial decision taken in open court, following a spate of adjournments occasioned by non-appearance of one or two of the defendants each time the matter came up which prevented arraignment of the defendants more than one year after the case was listed.
“However, we wish to note that contrary to the Agency’s claim, all the accused persons including the discharged persons were in Court on the last two Court dates of 24th May, 2019 and 5th November, 2019, yet no pleas were taken from them, rather, the agency, suo motu, withdrew the charge and substituted it with an amended charge against Lawal.
“From the foregoing, we state that the claim by the EFCC that in more than four times that the matter was called for arraignment, it was either Lanre Adesanya was sick, bedridden in a London Hospital or Nnamdi Okonkwo was hypertensive and on admission or Stanley Lawson had had domestic accident and could not appear in court is a story for new-born babies.
“From all indications, we make bold to say that the litigative history of this case has shown that EFCC ab initio never had the intention to charge any of the discharged accused persons to c, rather its sole intention from the start was to harass Mr. Dauda Lawal, bring his name into disrepute and seize his hard earned assets from over 30 years work in the private sector (reaching the rank of Executive Director, in Nigeria’s largest bank) for reasons best known to them.
“We are therefore demanding that EFCC should retrace its steps and go back to the spirit of the EFCC (Establishment) Act, where the organization was envisaged to be one that will be run devoid of sentiments and personal considerations in fighting financial crime.
“It is our humble advice that witch-hunting, selective prosecution, cherry picking accused persons and preferential treatment of suspects, will only further confirm the widely held view that EFCC has derailed from its initial mandate.
“As for Mr. Dauda Lawal, he is a model and mentor for Northern youths and we are confident that he is innocent of the charges brought against him and that in no time he will be vindicated.
“For the general public, we wish to state that we will continue to monitor developments in this case and put out the correct information at all times,” the statement concluded.