By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, Abuja
Lagos based Refrigerator repairer, Mr. Olalekan Kayode, yesterday, escaped jail by the whiskers, as a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, threatened to commit him to prison for attempting to claim the $15million that was allegedly offered to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in 2007, by convicted former Governor of Delta State, James Ibori.
Kayode had approached the court, asking it to compel the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to release the money to him for “proper management”, saying he intends to commit it to a special trust that he said would be manned by eminent Nigerians with a view to providing basic infrastructure for the citizenry.
In an application he filed through his London based lawyer, Mr John Olufemi Aina, Kayode, who said he resides and repairs Fridge and Air Conditioners at Alagbado in Lagos State, maintained that instead of allowing either FG or Delta State to take possession of the bribe money, it should be handed to him, contending that going by its antecedents, the Federal Government, has shown that it cannot be trusted to effectively utilize the fund for the general welfare of the public.
He argued that there was no guarantee that the Delta State Government which is equally laying claim to the money would not equally divert it into private pockets, adding that he would channel part of the money into charity based projects.
Meanwhile, the EFCC, through its lead counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, dismissed him as a big joke, describing him as a jobless busy-body seeking cheap publicity.
Consequently, the agency urged the court to severely sanction him to serve as a deterrent to any other person that may be nursing the ambition of trivializing the matter, noting that the intending “Intervener”, failed to show any recognizable interest rather than the fact that identified himself as a Nigerian citizen that has a claim to the fund by virtue of his citizenship.
“My lord, he is from Lagos State, resides at Alagbado where he repairs Fridge and Air Condition. The intervener has not shown that he will be affected more than any other Nigerian if this proceeding is heard and determined in his absence. He is a mere busy-body, therefore we are asking this court to dismiss this application with substantial cost. That will deter others from coming to this court with similar frivolous applications over this matter,” Rotimi added.
Likewise, the Delta State Government urged the court to dismiss the application as grossly lacking in merit.
Delivering his ruling yesterday, trial Justice Gabriel Kolawole, said he would have ordered both the applicant and his lawyer to appear and show cause why he should not be sent to prison for attempting to ridicule the proceeding before the court, saying their only saving grace was the fact that they feigned ignorance of a previous order of the court dated July 24.
“I regret to say that the conduct of the interveners counsel leaves much to be desired. He paid little or no regard to the rules of professional conduct. I find his conduct highly despicable and reprehensive” the judge fumed, adding, “He would have been turned to a criminal suspect for trying to turn the proceeding of this court to a circus.”
Meanwhile, Justice Kolawole, urged the National Executive Committee, NEC, of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, to promptly punish the applicants lawyer, saying it was such conduct that brings the judiciary to disrepute.
The substantive suit was however adjourned till December 11 for hearing on why final forfeiture order should not be made in favour of the Federal Government.
It would be recalled that whereas the Federal Government is seeking to take possession of the money which has been in the custody of the CBN since April 26, 2007, the Delta State Government on the other hand, contended that it should be handed the money since it was allegedly offered to the anti-graft agency during the period Ibori held sway as Governor of the State
The $15m was allegedly offered with a view to persuading the EFCC under its former chairman, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, to abort further investigations into allegations of corruption against Ibori.
Presiding Justice Gabriel Kolawole had on July 24, directed anyone interested in ownership of the money to approach the court with an application under section 17 of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act, 2006.
Sequel to that directive, one Chibuike Achigbu earlier approached the court, claiming that he personally gave the controversial money to a former aide to the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo, Andy Ubah, for the purpose of financing the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, during the 2007 general elections.
However, Achigbu who identified himself as an oil magnate, quickly withdrew the application he filed through a consortium of lawyers among who were three Senior Advocates of Nigeria, SANs, following moves by the EFCC to apprehend and prosecute him.
However, shortly after the court fixed date to take legal arguments from both the Federal Government and the Delta State Government, Kayode surfaced with his own application, seeking to be made an intervener in the matter.
EFCC had in application it filed alongside the Attorney General of the Federation and the CBN, on July 24, sought “an interim order forfeiting the sum of $15, 000, 000 (Fifteen Million Dollars) being an unclaimed property in possession of Central Bank of Nigeria, to the Federal Government of Nigeria pending the publication and hearing of the motion on notice for the final forfeiture order of the said property.”
However, Delta State, in its own application dated August 10, filed by own Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Chief Charles Ajuyah, SAN, argued that the jettisoned bribe money legitimately belongs to it, noting that, “any denial by Ibori in respect of the money cannot affect entitlement of the state to the amount.”
Meanwhile, has since denied offering the $15m bribe to the EFCC, saying he never authorized anyone to make such offer on his behalf.