BY CHRIS EKEKE
A new twist occurred yesterday in the ongoing trial of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Dele Belgore and a former Minister for National Planning, Prof. Abubakar Sulaiman as former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke urged a Federal High Court in Lagos to compel the federal government to facilitate her return to Nigeria from the United Kingdom.
Mrs. Alison-Madueke in an application filed on her behalf by her lawyer, Obinna Onya, is specifically asking the court to mandate the Attorney General of the Federation, being the agent of the Federal Government to facilitate her prompt appearance before the court on the next adjourned date to enable her take her plea and to defend the allegations made against her in the charge instituted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The embattled former Minister insisted that she would like to appear in court in Nigeria to defend the criminal charges bordering on alleged laundering of N450million, where her name was mentioned.
Belgore, a People’s Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain who contested the governorship election in Kwara State in 2015 and the former Minister,
who served during President Goodluck Jonathan’s Administration were arraigned on a five count charge before Justice Rilwan Aikawa.
The EFCC alleged that the duo in 2014, on or about March 27, 2015, conspired among themselves and directly took possession of N450
million, which they reasonably knew to be proceed of crimes.
The commission alleged that the N450million was part of a sum of $115million which Mrs. Alison-Madueke allegedly doled out to compromise the 2015 general elections.
The two defendants were also alleged to have on March 27, 2015, transferred the sum of N50 million to one Sheriff Shagaya ,without
going through financial institutions.
Although the name of the former Minister was mentioned in the suit she was declared as being at large by the EFCC.
The alleged offences, according to the prosecutor, Rotimi Oyedepo, are contrary to Sections 18(a), 15(2)(d),1(a), Section 16(d) of the Money
Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012, and punishable under Section 15(3), 4 and 16(2)(b)of the same Act.
The two defendants however pleaded not guilty to all the counts.
At the resumed hearing of the case on Tuesday, Onya told the trial judge, Justice Aikawa that he had an application seeking the leave of
the court to Mrs Alison-Madueke as one of the defendants in the matter.
The lawyer, who maintained that the application was filed in pursuant to Section 36(1),(5),(6 (a)-(e) of the Constitution and sections 216
(1) (2) (3) (4); and 217 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, prayed the court to amend the charge against Belgore and
Suleiman, so as to join his client as one of the defendants.
He also submitted that contrary to the declaration by the EFCC that Mrs. Alison-Madueke was at large, the former minister was in the UK
and was willing to return to Nigeria so that she could appear in court to take her plea and defend the charges.
Onya further argued that since the former Minister’s name had been mentioned in the charge, it would be against her right to fair hearing
for the case to proceed without affording her the opportunity to defend herself.
He contended that, “The statement made by the prosecution means that the applicant (Diezani) is going to be convicted without being given
the opportunity to defend herself.”
However, in his reaction, Oyedepo urged the court to dismissed the argument of Onya, stating that the application was not yet ripe for hearing, as he had not being served with a copy to enable him respond.
In a short ruling, Justice Aikawa held that the court could not entertain the application until all the parties in the matter had been properly served.
Also during Tuesday’s proceedings, the second prosecution witness, Usman Zakari, tendered two letters written to the EFCC in relation to
the case by Standard Charted Bank Nigeria Limited and Guaranty Trust Bank.
The judge admitted the two letters as exhibits in evidence against the defendants.
However, attempt by the EFCC counsel to tender a trail of electronic mail communication between Diezani and the managing director of a new
generation bank was resisted by the defence lawyers, Ebun Shofunde (SAN) and Olatunji Ayanlaja (SAN).
The two lawyers argued that the document was not admissible because it did not meet the requirement of the Evidence Act.
Based on the development, Oyedepo urged the court for an adjournment to enable him counter the objection raised by the defence team.
Justice Aikawa then adjourned the matter till Wednesday, October 4 for continuation of trial.