A Federal High Court in Abuja, on Monday, frowned at the manner the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) was prosecuting the trial of former Comptroller General, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Abdullahi Dikko, on alleged corruption charges.
Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu told the ICPC counsel, Ebenezer Shogunle, that the commission was not serious in the handling of the matter.
News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Ojukwu had, on Feb. 17, issued a bench warrant for the arrest of the former NCS boss over his continued failure to appear in court in respect of the case instituted against him and two others.
The development followed the inability of Solomon Akuma, counsel to Dikko, to produce his client in court in spite of undertaking to ensure that he appeared for his trial in the last adjourned date, only to present a medical report, claiming that Dikko was critically ill and on admission in London.
The judge, however, noted that should the prosecution, in executing the bench warrant discover that Dikko was actually on admission in a London hospital, “the execution shall be suspended.”
She held that if otherwise, the prosecution should arrest Dikko and produce him in court on March 16 which was the next adjourned date for arraignment.
NAN reports that Dikko, along side Garba Makarfi, a former NCS Assistant Comptroller-General in charge of Finance, Administration and Technical Services, and Umar Hussaini, a lawyer and owner of Capital Law firm were defendants in the case.
Dikko, Makarfi and Hussaini were, among others, accused of inducing the Managing Director of Cambial Limited, Yemi Obadeyi, to pay N1.1 billion (N1,100, 952,380.96) into the account of Capital Law Office as a refundable “completion security deposit” for the purchase of 120 units of duplexes as residential accommodation for NCS officers.
Hussaini was said to have distributed the money into various other bank accounts and for his part in the deal, he was rewarded with the sum of 3 million dollars.
However, at the arraignment on Monday, only Makarfi and Hussaini were at the dock with their counsel, Wilson Okion and Amaobi Nzelu respectively.
Though Dikko did not appear in court, his lawyer, Akuma, was in court.
Counsel to ICPC, Shogunle, reminded that at the last adjourned date, the court issued a bench warrant against Dikko (1st defendant) and directed that the prosecution should verify his location.
My lord, we confirmed that the first defendant left Nigeria on Feb. 14, three days before the sitting of this honourable court and his destination was Dubai.
“Currently, the first defendant is reported to be in London,” he said.
Shogunle said in the circumstances, “we will be applying that the lordship extend the duration of the bench warrant such that any time he returns to Nigeria, the warrant will be executed and he will be prosecuted in court.”
He urged the court to adjourn the trial, pending Dikko’s return to the country.
Justice Ojukwu, however, turned down Shogunle’s request, saying “I am not going to adjourn this natter for this reason.”
According to her, my duty is not to keep a charge that has no timeline in my docket.
“If you don’t want to go on with this matter, I will strike out this charge.
“Whenever you are ready to produce the first defendant (Dikko), then you re-arraign him,” she said.
But the prosecution counsel told the judge that he was determined to follow up the matter going by his presence in court.
He further prayed the court not to strike out his application, adding that the International Police (Interpol) had already been contacted over Dikko.
“We had sought the assistance of the Interpol but the reason they gave was that they needed valid charges against him.
“My lord, we ask for a new date, and if we are unable to present the first defendant, then you can strike it out,” he added.
Justice Ojukwu then asked Shogunle to provide the evidence of his claim about Interpol, but the prosecution said he was not with it.
“I can only work with evidence,” the judge responded.
Ojukwu, therefore, said that what she wanted was for Shogunle to verify from the hospital where Dikko claimed to be receiving medical attention based on the last ruling and not coming up with INTERPOL’s report.
The lawyer, however, told the court that Dikko was in Nigeria when the ruling on the bench warrant was given.
Ojukwu further asked him to provide the evidence that Dikko was in the country when she gave the ruling, but the counsel said he was not with it in court.
The prosecution counsel then told the judge to give him one week to either produce his evidence or withdraw the charge.
But Dikko’s lawyer, Akuma, objected and told the judge to dismiss his plea on the grounds that the prosecution had disobeyed the directive of the court.
“At least, the prosecution has confirmed that the first defendant was in London, but he has not confirmed whether he is at the hospital.
“The prosecution has failed to do a thorough investigation as per the earlier ruling you gave,” he said.
Akuma also said that the issue of Interpol was strange to him.
“In a nutshell, we object to the extension of the bench warrant,” he said.
The judge asked Akuma if he knew when Dikko would be available for arraignment, but he said he could not give a date except when he found out from Dikko’s physician regarding the state of his health.
Akuma told the court that if the prosecution could not investigate the veracity of the medical report of his client within one week, he should withdraw the charge and allow them to move their motion.
According to him, our motion dated 29 November, 2019, is praying the court to set aside ICPC’s charge or strike it out.
He said the prosecution had also responded through counter affidavit.
Ojukwu then asked the prosecution if he had applied for the bench warrant she earlier issued against Dikko and Shogunle said he applied through the court registry but was not in court with the copy.
“I don’t think you are serious. I have endorsed your warrant but you have never come for it,” the judge told Shogunle.
The judge then adjourned till May 6 for hearing of the applications filed by both parties.