By Soni Daniel
Abuja-Cousin to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Azibaola Robert, on Tuesday, opened his defence over the alleged $40 million contract awarded him by the federal government, with a claim that he was being framed and vilified by the administration because of his relationship with the former president.
Testifying before Justice Nnamdi Dimgba of the Federal High Court Abuja, Robert also alleged that he was being chastised for his advocacy against environmental injustice in the Niger Delta.
‘My name is Robert Azibaola, I’m from Otakeme, a community that’s two kilometres away from Oloibiri where crude oil was first discovered in Nigeria. I’m a businessman, the managing director of Oneplus Holdings, Kakatar Nig Ltd. I’m the chairman of several companies.
“I formed the Niger Delta Human & Environmental Rescue Organisation (ND-HERO) to fight injustice especially in the Niger Delta and across the country. I was a lawyer for the Ogoni 20. They were to be meted the same treatment like Ken Saro Wiwa.
“The late Ken Saro-Wiwa was arrested severally for my sake and I could not bear the pain anymore. The day Ken was judicially murdered was the day I retired from law practice. I am a minority in Nigeria and I have served my country Nigeria faithfully.
“As an environmentalist I toured the creeks of the Niger Delta along with other notable activists, like Adbul Oruh. There is a phrase called Environmental genocide. It is the destruction of the environment of the Niger Delta. Sometimes Nigeria does not factor this into its actions in the Niger Delta…..’’
But as Robert was narrating his experience and contributions to Nigeria’s development, prosecution counsel, Sylvester Tahir, objected to the defendant giving a background of his life and journey in the Niger Delta advocacy, saying that it was not related to the money laundering charge preferred against him by the EFCC.
Tahir urged the judge to either expunge ‘those obnoxious’ aspects of his evidence or whip him in line”.
But counsel to Robert, Chris Uche (SAN) countered, urging the judge to overrule the objection because the defendant had the right to tell his story.
Uche said, “My lord, I’m taken aback by the prosecution counsel and I urge you to discountenance it. This is a criminal allegation he has been called to defend and in doing so he is defending himself. Therefore he should be given adequate opportunity to do so. That is the essence of the Constitution. It is entirely the prerogative of the defence on how to tell his defence. The witness should be allowed to give his testimony on the manner he wants.”
Justice Dimgba agreed with Uche and overruled the objection, saying it would be premature to shut down the evidence of the defendant regarding his background to the alleged offence he is being linked with.
He adjourned the matter till Wednesday, (tomorrow) for continuation of hearing.
Recall that the court had in March struck out seven out of the nine-count criminal charges filed by the EFCC against Robert.