It remains one of the biggest corruption cases in Nigeria’s history. Even with the mind boggling corruption tales that have, for decades, been associated with many Nigerian public officials, the one allegedly involving Diezani Alison-Madueke, former petroleum minister in Goodluck Jonathan’s administration, stands out in many ramifications. Not just about the outrageous sums she is alleged to have cornered through her cronies as minister, but for her gender. Nigerians are long accustomed to seeing men in the dock particularly for high profile cases but Diezani, given the plethora of allegations against her, appears to have broken that tradition. Though yet to stand trial in the court, and even though she denies any wrongdoing, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC continues to link her to humongous sums, described as proceeds of crime.
Apart from money she is accused of pilfering, Diezani is said to have also tried to influence the 2015 presidential elections in favour of the PDP government, which she was a part of, by making the sum of $115m available to some persons for that purpose. Two persons: Dele Belgore, a lawyer and Abubakar Suleiman, former Minister of National Planning, are already standing trial for allegedly receiving N450m from the $115m with the intention of bribing electoral officials in favour of PDP in the March 2015 elections which Jonathan lost to the All Progressives Congress’s Muhammadu Buhari.
In summary, the money linked to Diezani, adds up to billions in foreign and local currencies, apart from properties she is accused of acquiring at home and abroad with her loot. Following these series of allegations against the woman, EFCC had sought to get her convicted. But that hasn’t happened as Diezani is out of the country. She currently lives in London, having travelled out of Nigeria after Jonathan failed to win re-election. However, giving the allegations against her, not a few Nigerians wanted her repatriated to answer to the charges. The EFCC also gave the impression it was working at getting her back but that suddenly changed when, through some of its officials and lawyers, the EFCC said it would prefer she stands trial in London. EFCC’s decision came as reply to Diezani’s request to return to Nigeria to face trial in the case against Belgore and Suleiman before a Lagos High Court where she’s listed by the EFCC as a defendant.
At the resumption of the case early this month, Obinna Onya, Diezani’s counsel, requested the court presided by Justice Aikawa, to compel Nigeria’s attorney general to bring back Diezani to answer to the charges against her. Onya said Diezani seeks to return to Nigeria to defend herself in the case in which she is mentioned as an accomplice. Contrary to the EFCC’s claim that Diezani was “at large,” Onya said his client wants to return to clear her name.
“The statement made by the prosecution means that the applicant (Diezani) is going to be convicted without being given the opportunity to defend herself,” he said, and requested an order “mandating the Attorney General of the Federation, being the agent of the complainant, to facilitate the prompt appearance of the applicant in court on the next adjourned date, to take her plea and to defend the allegations made against her in counts 1, 2,3 and 4 of the charge, numbered FHC/L/35c/2017.”
Long before that, Diezani herself, reacting to disclosure by EFCC that her properties and monies amounting to $153.3, among other allegations, had been unearthed, challenged the agency to show proof of its claims.
“In the face of the obvious falsification of facts and misinformation, it is only right and proper that the EFCC should provide the details of the $153.3 million lodgement, the bank account numbers and the account beneficiaries, showing proof of my link to them. Having also alleged that the said $153.3 million was ‘wired’ from the NNPC, the EFCC should also publish the details of the NNPC account from where the said $153.3 million was taken, and with proof that I authorised such a transaction,” she fired back.
Responding to Onya’s request, Rotimi Oyedepo, EFCC’s counsel, opposed the application, saying he hadn’t yet been served the application. Onya replied that his attempts to serve Oyedepo at the EFCC office and court premises were declined. Justice Aikawa then asked him to return and serve the application at the EFCC’s registry and that his plea would not be entertained until all parties have been duly served.
Obviously, the Nigerian government wants the trial to hold in London and not a few of its officials have made this clear. Mallam Abubakar Malami, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, said there’s nothing strange in Diezani standing trial abroad as her crime extends outside the country.
“Steps have been taken by the United Kingdom authorities on issues bordering on corrupt practices involving Nigerians. If Nigeria feels strongly that there is need to bring Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke here to face charges of corruption, government will not hesitate to do that. As things stand now, there is no need for that since the UK Government is already investigating her. Government will not take any decision that will jeopardize what the UK government is doing. Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke is facing charges of money laundering and acquisition of properties in the United Kingdom. So it is more important to face the charges there than for her to come as a mere witness in a case in Nigeria.’’
Not everyone is impressed by such argument as they wonder how the government could have suddenly jettisoned the idea to put to trial in Nigeria, it’s most wanted figure, someone it had long accused of monumental fraud. Not even the argument by some government officials that, in seeking to return to Nigeria, Diezani aims to take advantage of loopholes in the system to escape justice holds water for some people.
Sunday Ekanem, chairman, PDP forum, South-south, said the implication of EFCC’s change of position regarding trial venue is that it has no credible evidence against Diezani.
“The APC government has nothing against Diezani. If it has sufficient evidence to try her, it would have asked the British government for her extradition. I challenge the APC government to write to the British government for her extradition and stop feeding Nigerians with lies of billions of Naira that she stole. The people see government as government of lies. The APC government thrives on hi-tech lies and malicious propaganda,” he said, adding that the current administration “is using Diezani media trial to divert attention of Nigerians from their cluelessness.”
Yemi Adetoyinbo, national publicity secretary of the Action Democratic Party, ADP, said though there is bilateral treaty between Nigeria and Britain, which legally empowers Nigeria to carry out the extradition order, he would prefer for the trial to take place in Nigeria.
“In my opinion, the trial should take place in Nigeria whose law would apply and as the source of the graft or scene of the crime. I know there are fears that positive and effective trial could be frustrated by legal jaggons, that it could be business as usual like endless trials, partisan issues of PDP accusation of selected trial and the doubts of sincerity of the APC” but those shouldn’t stand against it, he said.
Additional report by Segun Adeosun
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