By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Federal Government, on Tuesday, docked Justice Ademola Adeniyi and his wife, Olabowale, before an Abuja High Court at Maitama on an 11-count criminal charge.
Justice Ademola who hitherto served under the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court before he was asked to temporarily step down from the bench by the National Judicial Council, NJC, was alleged to have on various dates between 2014 and 2015, received huge sums of money as gratifications.
Trial Justice Jude Okeke granted the defendants bail on self-recognition to the tune of N50million each, shortly after they took turns and pleaded not guilty to charges levelled against them by FG.
The Judge further ordered the defendants to surrender their international passports to the Deputy Chief Registrar of the Court, pending hearing and determination of the charge against them.
The defendants however begged the court to give them seven days within which to deposit their passports, a request that accordingly granted.
The court subsequently fixed January 18 to commence full-blown hearing on the matter, just as it directed the prosecution to furnish the defendants with copies of the their statements which it intends to rely on in the course of the trial.
The defendants were among other things, accused of receiving a car worth N8.5million as gratification from a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Joe Agi, as well as, having in his possession, two rifles that were not validly registered.
Specifically, FG alleged that Justice Ademola and his wife conspired and also received N30m gratification from Joe Agi and Associates between March 11 and March 26, 2015.
It further accused Ademola of “dealing with property subject matter of an offence”, by transferring N85m and N90m, totalling N175m, to Franco Dan Parker on February 24, 2014.
Both offences were said to be contrary to section 24 of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act, 2000, and punishable under the same law.
Moreover, Justice Ademola who is a grandson to a former Chief Justice of Nigeria, was also accused of attempting to receive gratification in the sum of N25m from one Sani Shaibu Teidi on February 21, 2014.
FG alleged that he had on January 5, 2015, in his capacity as a public servant, “corruptly received from Joe Odey Agi, a BMW Saloon 320i valued at N8,500,000, through your son, Ademide Ademola, as gratification”, in the exercise of his official functions as a Judge of the Federal High Court of Nigeria.
Besides, he was said to have on October 7, 2016, had in his possession, “one Pump Action Rifle with serial number AVAR MAGNUM 6084 without a valid licence and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 3 of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act, 2004”.
He was said to have, on the same date of October 7, 2016, had in his possession another Pump Action Rifle with serial number AVAR MAGNUM 6284 without a valid licence.
In count-11, Justice Ademola was accused of having in his possession on the same date of October 7, 2014, “35 rounds of live ammunition (cartridges) without a valid licence and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 3 of the Robbery and Firearms (Special Provisions) Act, 2004”.
The offences relating to gratification were said to be contrary to section 8(1) (a) of the Corrupt Practices and other related offences Act, 2000.
Remarkably, Justice Ademola is due to retire from the Federal High Court bench next year.
Meanwhile, the defendants who were represented by two Senior Advocates of Nigeria, Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu and Chief Robert Clarke, pleaded innocence to the allegations, even as they urged the court to grant them bail on self-recognition.
The duo, via separate bail applications dated December 8 and predicated on sections 138, 162 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, and sections 35(4) and 36(5) of the 1999 constitution, expressed their readiness to sign an undertaking before the court to always be available for their trial.
Earlier, the prosecuting counsel, Mr. Shegu Jegede, said he would not oppose their bail requests
“My lord we are not opposed to this application. Given the circumstances of this case, particularly the standing of the defendants and the rapidly impending Christmas.
“However, I apply that your lordship impose such sanctions that will make the defendants to attend trial as required. In doing that I will call your lordship’s attention to section 162 of the ACJA”.
Jegede urged the court to take into cognisance the capability of the defendants to tamper with evidence or influence the witnesses.
Nevertheless, the prosecution prayed the court to compel the defendants to surrender their international passports.
However, Ademola’s counsel, Dr. Ikpeazu, SAN, drew attention of the court to the fact that the Department of State Service, DSS, earlier granted his client bail on self-recognition.
He stressed that the DSS never asked him to surrender his international passports.
“We urge my lord not to impose any condition for bail in excess of the condition earlier imposed on him by the complainant.
“My lord the 1st defendant will enter an undertaking that he will make himself available for this trial in the same way he availed himself to the schedule of the complainant and schedule of this court in fixing the arraignment”, he pleaded.
Similarly, counsel to Ademola’s wife, Chief Clarke, SAN adopted the submission.
He said: “My lord I will add that the 2nd defendant is the substantive Head of Service of the Lagos State Government. A position that carries huge responsibility, not only within the country but outside the country.
“My lord as a Lagosian my self , I can comfortably boast that the state hosts several international conferences, therefore, asking for her passport will greatly hinder her duties on Lagos State needs”.
He urged the court to exercise its discretion in favour of the defendants.
In his bench ruling, trial Justice Jude Okeke, noted that none of the offences upon which the defendants were charged could attract capital punishment.
He said it could at best, attract imprisonment exceeding three years.
Justice Okeke held that the prosecution did not counter averrments by the defendants that they never abused the administrative bail earlier granted to them by the DSS.
He further observed that the prosecution had deposed an affidavit to the effect that it had concluded investigations into the matter.
It will be recalled that FG had on December 5, applied to withdraw an initial 15-count charge against the defendants dated November 14, even as it entered the amended 11-count charge dated December 1 and marked CR/21/16.
FG earlier disclosed that it has lined-up three witnesses to testify against the defendants.
Those to testify against them are Babatunde Adepoju who took statement of the defendants, George Inyang who will testify on the Link Chart and a GT Bank PLC staff.
Among evidence to be tendered against the defendants include their Bank statements.
The embattled Judge had earlier fingered the AGF, Malami, SAN, as the brain behind his ordeal in hands of the DSS.
While seeking leave of the National Judicial Council, NJC, to drag the DSS to court for violating his fundamental rights, Justice Ademola, said that Malami instigated his arrest to take back his pound of flesh owing to a clash they had in the past whilst the AGF was practising as a lawyer in Kano.
Ademola who then served as a Judge of the Federal High Court, Kano Division, said he had reported Malami to the NJC for engaging in professional misconduct.
He said it took the intervention of Kano branch of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, to save the AGF from being debarred, alleging that Malami got freed using a fake apology letter.
“What is more intriguing in this whole episode, is that I see it as a vendetta/revenge from the Hon. Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami. While I was in Kano between 2004 and 2007 as a Federal High Court judge, he was involved in a professional misconduct necessitating his arrest and detention by my order.
“However, with the intervention of the NBA, Kano branch, the allegation of misconduct was later withdrawn by me.
“Consequently, the NJC referred Abubakar Malami (SAN) to the Nigerian Bar Association’s Disciplinary Committee for disciplinary action.”
On the raid, Ademola denied that huge amount of money was found in his residence, saying he could however not determine how much was actually recovered, since the money was allegedly recovered from his house in his absence.
He said the DSS had aside accusing him of granting “unconstitutional bail” to Kanu and Dasuki, also told him 24 hours after his arrest that allegations for which he was being investigated included a petition by Mr. Jekins Duvie dated April 4, still pending before the NJC.
“After stating the grounds for the invasion as stated above, they requested explanation of the money found in my apartment, as well as two licensed firearms also found in my apartment.
“All the allegations that border on judicial decisions were supported with Certified True Copy of Proceedings showing that those applications were not opposed by the counsel representing the Department of State Services of the Federal Government of Nigeria”, the Judge added.
Giving a peep into what transpired that night, Ademola said mistook the the DSS operatives for armed robbers, “especially because this was at an ungodly hour of the night.”
He said the operatives numbering about 45 with all of them masked, storme his official residence at House 30, Ogbemudia Crescent, Apo Legislative Quarters, Abuja, on or about 12 am at midnight of the said day, Friday.
Ademola said he was awaken by the operatives’ loud sound of banging, breaking and hitting.
“They asked me to open the door and I responded, asking them, ‘Who are you?’ They answered ‘We are officers of the Department of State Services and we are here with a search warrant to search your house.’
“I told them to allow me to call my counsel. At this point, they had already began kicking at my door and after about three kicks, I got up and opened my bedroom door and let them in.
“To my surprise, I saw about 45 masked officers of the DSS, all heavily armed pointing their guns at me. They flashed a document purported to be a search warrant and ordered me to sign on a document claiming that they had already conducted a search downstairs.
“They also added that I was totally under their custody as I have always made an order against them (the DSS).
“I complied and upon signing the document, they told me that I was under arrest and ordered me with guns still pointed at me to move outside. As I was going, they told me they were taking me to their office without showing any warrant of arrest,” the letter read.
“I obeyed them and at about six o’clock in the morning, I was whisked away from my residence to the DSS office.
“From the time of my arrival at the DSS office, at about 6:45am on October 8, I was not told what my crime was for over 24 hours till the evening of October 9.
“A DSS official finally informed me that the search and my arrest were based on these three allegations: the petition of Hon. Jenkins Duvie dated April 4, 2016 to the National Judicial Council and granting bail to Col. Sambo Dasuki and the unconditional release of Nnamdi Kanu”, he stated.
Some of the charges against the defendants read:
STATEMENT OF OFFENCE
Criminal Conspiracy to Receive gratification contrary to Section 26(1) (c) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000 and punishable under Section 26 (1) of the same Law.
PARTICULARS OF OFFENCE
ADENIYI FRANCIS ADETOKUNBO ADEMOLA ‘M’ and OLABOWALE TOLUWATOPE ADEMOLA ‘F’ between 11th and 26th March 2015, in Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, conspired to receive from Messrs Joe Agi and Associates through a bank account number 201/ 110160/1/1/0 domiciled at GT Bank PLC the total sum of Thirty Million Naira, (NGN 30,000,000.00) and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 26(1)(c) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000 and punishable under section 26 (1) of the same Law.
STATEMENT OF OFFENCE
Receiving Gratification, contrary to Section 8(1)(a) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000 and punishable under section 8(1) (a) (ii) of the same Law.
PARTICULARS OF OFFENCE
That you Adeniyi Francis Adetokunbo Ademola, adult male, 63 years and Ademola Olabowale Toluwalope female, 59 years of No 32, Samuel Ogbemudia Crescent, Apo Zone E, Abuja, FCT between the 11th March 2015 and 26th March 2015, in Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, corruptly received from Messrs Joe Agi and Associates, through Ademola Olabowale Toluwalope’s bank account number 201/ 110160/1/1/0 domiciled at GT Bank PLC the total sum of Thirty Million Naira, (NGN 30,000,000.00) in order to influence the discharge of the official duties of Adeniyi Francis Adetokunbo Ademola as a Judge of the Federal High Court of Nigeria, contrary to Section 8 (1) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000.