After a seemingly endless case transfers in the nine-year-old trial, a former federal lawmaker representing Kano state, Farouk Lawan, was Tuesday sentenced to seven-year imprisonment over $500,000 bribery allegations.
The judgment was in Suit No FCT/HC/CR/76/2013 between the federal government and Farouk M. Lawan.
The verdict which lasted hours was given by Justice Angela Otaluka of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court in Apo, Abuja.
The former lawmaker was found guilty of all the three counts charges of bribery.
Blueprint reports that the bribery scandal that nailed Lawan was an aftermath of allegations against some companies indicted for fuel subsidy fraud during his tenure as the chairman of the House of Representatives ad-hoc committee investigating the fraud around fuel subsidy regime in 2012.
The former lawmaker was thereafter arraigned on charges of receiving a bribe of $500,000 from a billionaire oil magnate, Femi Otedola.
The money, it was alleged, was part of the $3milllion Lawan requested from Otedola, to have the businessman’s firms removed from the list of companies indicted for the said subsidy fraud.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission (ICPC), while arraigning him in 2012 on a three-count charge alleged the lawmaker demanded $3million from Otedola.
Justice Otaluka, our findings revealed, was the fifth judge to preside over the trial of the erstwhile lawmaker, who was initially arraigned in 2012.
Earlier, it will be recalled that the same court had dismissed Lawan’s preliminary objection against his trial.
As the proceeding which was first handled by Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi of the FCT High Court at Maitama progressed, some pundits, Blueprint reports, described it as tortuous while others dismissed the assertion, insisting the law must take its course.
The embattled ex-lawmaker’s travail reportedly started 2013 when the now Minister of State Labour, Festus Keyamo then into private practice, gave the Nigerian police a one-week ultimatum to prosecute Lawan.
When the ultimatum given to the police lapsed, the activist lawyer proceeded with his threat to personally prosecute Lawan and Secretary of the Committee, Mr. Boniface Emenalo, for alleged bribe taking.
After a media report that the police had concluded investigation on the alleged crime and passed their findings to the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Keyamo, again, sent a draft charge against the accused to the then AGF, Mohammed Adoke, to prosecute them; failure of which he threatened to commence a private prosecution against the politician.
He had said: “The position of the law is that, before I commence private prosecution, you should be given the opportunity to prosecute or to decline to prosecute.”
Keyamo was further quoted as having said: “I expect the AGF to reply to my request by the close of business next Tuesday, January 29 2013 to enable me determine my next line of action.
“I sincerely hope you will make your decision one way or the other as any indecision on your part will amount to a refusal to act as held by the Supreme Court in the case of CHIEF GANI FAWEHINMI V. COL. HALILU AKILU & ANOR: IN RE: ODUNEYE reported in 1987 (4 NWLR) P. 67. In that case, it will be all-clear signal I require to file the Charge.”
And the twists
And in 2017, an Abuja High Court sitting at Jabi, fixed July 5 for the federal government to re-arraign Lawan on an amended three-count bribery charge, even as the anti-graft agency later amended the charge and converted Emenalo to a prosecution witness.
Emenalo had earlier given his evidence-in-chief before Justice Angela Otaluka of an Abuja High Court at Lugbe.
Justice Otaluka was, however, directed to hands off the case by the then Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, Justice Ishaq Bello, following a petition by Lawan, accusing her of being biased.
Not done, the defendant allegedly levelled the same allegation against the second trial judge in the matter, Justice Adebukola Banjoko of FCT High Court at Gudu.
Justice Banjoko thereafter withdrew from the case on November 18, 2014, following Lawan’s petition to the CJ that the judge was close to Otedola, who was billed to testify against him.
He insisted that the Judge was likely to manifest bias against him since she was a family friend to the proposed witness.
The ICPC had earlier produced four out of its five proposed witnesses to testify against the defendant, with Otedola scheduled to mount the witness box before the matter was withdrawn from Justice Otaluka.
ICPC lawyer, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, had equally petitioned the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, SAN, accusing Lawan of using frivolous allegations to stall his trial.
Awomolo, in his letter received by the AGF June 8, 2017, stressed that Lawan had become “notorious for making undeserved allegation when he feels he is likely to lose.”
The prosecution lamented that the case was always transferred by the CJ who it said, never gave it opportunity to make input with a view to drawing his attention to “antecedents of the defendant and the damage to the case of the prosecution.”
Stressing that every transfer implied the commencement of fresh trial before a new Judge, ICPC, decried that the developments had been “very frustrating, discouraging and oppressive on the prosecution”.
And in his latest petition dated March 21, Lawan urged the CJ to disqualify Justice Otaluka whom he said, had personal interest in his trial.
The ex-lawmaker’s complaints mainly bordered on the alleged refusal of Justice Otaluka to adjourn the trial on different occasions to enable his lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, handle his defence.
“In my view of the harsh and unfair manner, as well as the apparent and consistent prejudice exhibited by the judge in handling my case, especially by her refusal to grant me an adjournment, so that I will be represented by a counsel of my own choice, and her expression that she must quickly conclude my case, leaves me with no doubt that she has a mindset to hurriedly convict me at all cost for reasons best known to her”, Lawan said.
Video evidence/legal firework
The prosecution had earlier tendered a video clip that showed Lawan as collecting a parcel from Otedola. The video was presented before Justice
Otaluka by the Department of State Service (DSS) through its Principal Officer in charge of Technical Operations, Mr. David Ojataha.
On the directive of the Judge, the video which lasted about three minutes was played in the open court by Awomolo, the prosecuting counsel.
Awomolo said: “My lord the videos I just played are those of Mr. Femi Otedola and Hon. Farouq Lawan, where there was an exchange of parcel at Otedola’s house in Aso Drive, Abuja.”
In his evidence-in-chief, Ojataha told the court that he was saddled with the responsibility of recording the video by the DSS owing to his background as an Electronic and Telecommunication Engineer.
However, Lawan’s lawyer, Chief Ozekhome, while cross-examining the witness, said the device used in playing the CD had no imprint of time and event in the video.
Ozekhome consequently contended that there was nothing to show that what the defendant collected from Otedola was bribe money.
Lawan’s lawyer equally insisted there was also nothing in the video to suggest bribery was discussed because such words like “bribe” was not heard in the video.
ICPC alleged that Lawan acted contrary to section 17 (1) (a), section 8(1) (a) (b) (ii), and section 23 (i) of the Corrupt practices and other Related Offences Act, 2000 and punishable under section 8 (1) 17 (1) and 23(3) of the same Act.
In his testimony, Emenalo, who testified as the PW-1 had earlier given reasons he accepted $100,000 from Otedola.
The witness told the court he took the money to expose Otedola’s move to compromise members of the subsidy committee, pointing out the sum was in $100 bills.
He told the court the first meeting he had with Otedola was Sunday, April 22, 2012, with a follow-up meeting between them Tuesday, April 24, 2012 at the oil mogul’s Abuja residence at Aso Drive, Maitama.
The witness further told the court he subsequently handed the money over to Lawan as exhibit.
Though Emenalo denied allegation that he received $20,000 bribe from Otedola during their first meeting, he admitted it was during the second meeting that Otedola gave him the $100,000.
Having gone through submissions by both parties, Justice Otaluka held that from the pool of evidence before the court, the prosecution had established a case of corrupt practices against the defendant in Count One of the charges which borders on corruptly requesting a bribe of three million dollars.
The court ruled the defendant acted in breach of section 17 (1) (a), section 8(1) (a) (b) (ii), and section 23 (i) of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act, 2000, and committed an offence punishable under section 8 (1) 17 (1) and 23(3) of the same Act.
The trial judge also declared that the court was satisfied that the ICPC successfully established a criminal case against the defendant.
The defendant was convicted on all three-count charges the ICPC preferred against him.
The judge further held that the embattled former lawmaker’s conduct had elements of corruption.
“Count One of the charges is not based on suspicion but on credible evidence. The defendant (Mr Lawan) corruptly asked for $3million and received a $500,000 bribe in two tranches from Femi Otedola.
“The conduct of the defendant established the ingredients of corruption which he was charged to court, as he did not report any case of inducement to any law enforcement agency,” the judge affirmed further.
While the defendant bagged 7-year jail term on counts 1 and 2 of the charges, the court handed him 5 years for count 3, and ruled that the sentence would run concurrently.