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.
The judge, Ijeoma Ojukwu, told the ICPC counsel, Ebenezer Shogunle, that the commission was not serious in the handling of the matter.
Ojukwu had, on February 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 on the last adjourned date, only to present a medical report, claiming that the former NCS CG 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.Dikko, alongside 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 are the defendants in the case.
The three were, among others, accused of inducing the Managing Director of Cambial Limited, Yemi Obadeyi, to pay N1.1 billion 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.
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 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 February 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.
“We will be applying that the lordship extends 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 said.
He urged the court to adjourn the trial, pending Dikko’s return to the country.
The judge, however, turned down Shogunle’s request, saying, “I am not going to adjourn this matter for this reason.”
“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.
Ojukwu then asked Mr 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 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.
The judge then adjourned till May 6 for hearing of applications filed by both parties.