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Guilty As Perceived

By Owei Lakemfa

Double Chief, Mike Ozekhome, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), who had N75 million frozen in his account on suspicion that they are proceeds of crime, had claimed they are legal fees. That must have infuriated many Nigerians; if one lawyer earns so much as legal fees,  what will be left for other lawyers to share? I know that Baba Ozek, as some of us call him, is a brilliant lawyer. Is that why he should receive so much? Some believe that such a huge sum will go a long way in reviving our ailing economy and floating  the naira which had almost drowned before a life jacket was tossed at it.
The danger to the country is that if lawyers earn so much, almost everybody including medical consultants and Area Boys (street boys or urchins)  would abandon their practice to read law. So from the moral perspective alone, such money should be seized.

To worsen his case, the money came from the Ekiti State Governor, Ayodele  Fayose, who is suspected of   involvement in the alleged Dasukigate Arms Scandal. These must have  propelled the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)  to procure an order freezing the account.
But last Monday, Justice Abulazeez Anka of a Federal High Court in Lagos dampened our hopes of having a go at Ozekhome’s money by de-freezing the account. He ruled that: “There is no argument whatsoever as to the source of the fund…The question is, can the respondent/applicant be liable for any infraction as at the time he received the amount in his account?” The flipside for me, is that Ozek is my friend, now that his account has been unfrozen,  I will renew our friendship.

The image of former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsday Orubebe  ‘holding up’  the announcement of the 2015 Presidential Election results was beamed live into our homes.  Many condemned him. So when  the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) announced  his alleged complicity in a N1.97billion contract fraud, he was roundly condemned. To many, this was the reason for his  2015 action; afraid that the new government will expose him.  The diverted money was  for the compensation of owners of properties on Eket Urban section of the East-West Road in Eket, Akwa Ibom State.  Two other persons were charged along with him; the Director of Contracts, Gitto Costruzioni Generali Nig. Ltd., Mr. Ephraim Towede Zari and  Mr. Oludare Davis Alaba, an Assistant Director at the Ministry of Niger-Delta Affairs.
Having been found guilty in the opinion of the public, what was left was his formal conviction in court. As for his punishment, opinions varied; some suggested that apart from recovering the money, the accused should go to jail for  life.  But a day after  the Ozekhome case, Justice Olukayode Adeniyi  of the Abuja High Court brought the drama to an end by acquitting and discharging the accused persons. The diligent investigators and prosecutors  had missed the fact that the  N1.97 billion allegedly stolen by the Orubebe group was all the while lying in the Ministry’s bank account; it never left!  Corruption is fighting back!

Perhaps the greatest fight back of corruption is the case of Justice Adeniyi Ademola,  a serving judge of the Federal High Court, Abuja, his wife, Mrs. Olubowale Ademola and Mr. Joe Agi, SAN.  Justice Ademola was one of the judges targeted in the October 7, 2016 anti-corruption sting operation by the Department of State Security (DSS) That was how he was ‘busted’. The operation received wide applause. Given the incriminating evidence including alleged receipt of  a N30 million bribe and  illegal possession of arms, his alleged guilt was cast in iron. He was roundly condemned and held up as the main evidence of the alleged rottenness and corruption of the judiciary. He was found guilty as perceived.
An 18-count charge was slapped on him and his co-accused. There were three counts on the N30 million bribe issue which was supposed to have been paid through his wife, a former Lagos State Head of Service. But Justice Jude Okeke ruled that for people to be guilty of conspiracy, they must have met to conspire, this the prosecution could not establish. Also fatal to the prosecution case was its failure to provide any evidence of what the ‘bribe’ was meant for. The State admitted that it could not link the money to any case(s) before Justice Ademola.  On the charge  of the   procurement of a BMW car by Justice Ademola’s son, Ademide, proof was made that the negotiation for the car, the documents including invoice  were in the name of the son to whose house the car was delivered. The question is, how do you charge a man  with corruption for a car owned by his son?  As for the foreign exchange found in his house, there was no conclusive proof that they are  the proceeds of a crime. Then the most damaging cut were the claims that Justice Ademola  had been found in the illegal possession of two guns.  He showed letters from the relevant authorities approving and releasing the guns to him and his brother Judge, A.R. Mohammed, and the operating licences of the guns!  The presiding judge concluded that the charges against Justice Ademola were  not based on facts or law, but on strong suspicion and speculation buoyed  by the popular campaign against corruption.
My reaction is that strong suspicion by the populace should be enough basis to convict the judge, after all, there is a popular saying that ‘there is no smoke without fire’  But why was such a rickety case constructed? Is corruption not fighting back?

Then as if all these cases were carefully choreographed, Justice Mojisola Olatoregun of the Federal High Court, Lagos, on Thursday unfroze the Skye Bank account of former First Lady, Patience Jonathan containing the princely sum of $5,842,316.66! The judge upheld the argument that since Mrs. Jonathan was not a party in the suit  before it, the court has no jurisdiction to order her account frozen.
As things stand, Mrs. Jonathan  and Chief Ozekhome now have access to their unfrozen accounts, Justice Ademola may return to the Bench and Orubebe may be singing songs of praise; where do these leave the millions of Nigerians who believe they are guilty? We need to amend our constitution and laws so that in corruption cases, those  condemned by  popular opinion,  would be  guilty as charged.

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