By Bayo Akintola
Nze Chidi Duru, a former House of Representatives member, was, on Monday, January 16, 2017, arraigned before a Chief Magistrate Court at Tinubu, Lagos, alongside Mr. Smart Iheazor. Duru and Iheazor, said to be lawyers of 28 and 30 years at the Bar, respectively, were alleged to have conspired with others still at large and invaded the office of the First Guarantee Pension Limited (FGPL), a pension fund administrator, with the intent to forcefully take over the management and assets of the company. The Zone 2 Command of the Nigeria Police charged them with a four-count charge of stealing, conspiracy, impersonation and breach of peace.
Three weeks after, the Federal Government, again, arraigned Duru before Hon. Justice Peter Affen on a four-count charge of criminal breach of trust and forgery. Counsel for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, told the court that Duru diverted N16m of First Guarantee Pension and used it to purchase lands in Lagos in favour of Grand Towers Plc and MVJJDA Africa Ltd, companies he has interest in. Duru was also accused of falsifying an ordinary resolution of FGPL dated June 2, 2008 and forged the signatures of the subscribers/shareholders of the company and used it for fraud.
While the Lagos matter was adjourned to March 9, Abuja case was adjourned to February 27, for hearing of Duru’s preliminary objection to his trial.
Duru was alleged to have committed the offences of criminal breach of trust and forging of shareholders signatures in 2008. He was indicted and sacked by the PENCOM Board in 2011 for serial alleged fraud, forgery of shareholders signatures and fraudulent diversion of their funds running into millions. The then Inspector-General of Police, M.D. Abubakar, in 2012, arrested and granted Duru bail but went to procure an injunction restraining the police from prosecuting him. The I.G declared Duru and his brother, Ugochukwu Duru, wanted.
It is on record that the EFCC before then arrested Duru in 2011 over allegations of financial crimes against the pension administrator (FGPL).
The Magu-led EFCC seemed to have played a fast one on Duru by deploying operational intelligence to withdraw the charges in Lagos. It was apparently used to lure him out of alleged hiding and it worked. As soon as the charges were withdrawn, Duru announced that EFCC had exonerated him of the criminal allegations regarding First Guarantee Pension. Perhaps this emboldened him to go to the FGPL in a bid to take over its management despite pending cases on the matter at the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal.
Duru’s family, on their part, turned the law upside down when they rushed to the media to say that the arraignment of their son again, by EFCC, on a charge it previously withdrew amounts to double jeopardy.
The police should be commended for promptly arresting and charging Duru to court just five days after he went to the pension fund administrator’s office. In previous cases, Duru had allegedly dodged law enforcement agencies.
However, while stakeholders in the pension industry are celebrating the trial of Duru, we should rather question the fact that he is just being arraigned afresh almost 10 years after allegedly committing the said offences. This raises serious questions about the efficacy of our justice system.
The central goal of our criminal justice system should be to deliver justice to all in an effective, accountable, and fair manner. But in Nigeria, the legal principle that “justice delayed is justice denied” no longer means anything to us.
In the Duru case, the court is still hearing the bail petitions and preliminary objections of the accused nearly a decade after the alleged crimes were committed. This should not be so! An accused person who is convinced of his innocence should be keen on quick dispensation of his case to clear his/her name and free himself/herself from that tainted toga of criminality. Nigerians, especially the pension community, want to see an end to this matter in the overall public interest.
*Akintola is Lagos based public affairs analyst.