Former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, has said she would like to appear in court in Nigeria to defend a criminal charge bordering on alleged laundering of N450 million, where her name was mentioned.
She urged the Federal High Court in Lagos to compel the Attorney General of the Federation to bring her back to Nigeria from the United Kingdom, where she travelled to shortly after leaving office in 2015.
The main defendants in the charge are a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Dele Belgore and a former Minister of National Planning, Prof. Abubakar Suleiman.
Belgore and Suleiman were charged before Justice Rilwan Aikawa for allegedly collecting N450 million from Diezani and laundering same in the build-up to the 2015 general elections.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which filed the charges, claimed that the N450 million was part of a sum of $115 million, which Diezani allegedly doled out to compromise the 2015 general elections.
The SAN and the professor were arraigned on five counts, wherein Diezani’s name was mentioned, but she was declared as being “at large.”
At the resumed proceedings in the case on Tuesday, one Obinna Onya, a lawyer from Abuja, appeared before Justice Aikawa with an application seeking the joining of Diezani as one of the defendants in the charge.
The application, filed pursuant to Section 36(1),(5),(6 (a)-(e) of the Constitution and sections 216 (1) (2) (3) (4); and 217 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, sought an amendment to the charges against Belgore and Suleiman, so as to join Diezani as one of the defendants.
The lawyer contended that contrary to the declaration by the EFCC that Diezani was at large, the former minister was in the UK and was willing to return to Nigeria so that she could appear in court to take her plea and defend the charges.
The lawyer argued that since Diezani’s name had been mentioned in the charge, it would be against her right to fair hearing for the case to proceed without affording her the opportunity to defend herself.
“The statement made by the prosecution means that the applicant (Diezani) is going to be convicted without being given the opportunity to defend herself,” Onya told Justice Aikawa.
The application prayed for 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.”
Onya urged Justice Aikawa to hear and determine the application before proceeding with the case on Tuesday.
But the prosecuting counsel for the EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo, opposed him, saying the application was not ripe for hearing, as he had yet to be served.
However, Onya told the court that he had attempted to serve Oyedepo on Tuesday morning on the court premises but that the prosecutor declined, adding that his effort to serve the application at the EFCC office on Friday was also frustrated.
But Oyedepo advised him to go and serve the application at the registry of the EFCC, assuring him that the application would be accepted.
Responding, Justice Aikawa said the court could not entertain the application until all the parties had been properly served.
Meanwhile, the trial proceeded with the second witness for the EFCC, Usman Zakari, continuing his testimony.
Through the witness, Oyedepo tendered two letters written to the EFCC in relation to the case Standard Charted Bank Nigeria Limited and Guaranty Trust Bank.
The court admitted the two letters as exhibits in evidence against the defendants.
However, Oyedepo’s attempt to tender a trail of electronic mail communication between Diezani and the Managing Director of Fidelity Bank was resisted by the defence counsel, Mr. Ebun Shofunde (SAN) and Olatunji Ayanlaja (SAN).
They contended that the document was not admissible as, according to them, it did not meet the requirement of the Evidence Act.
Oyedepo sought an adjournment to counter the objection by the defence.
Justice Aikawa adjourned till Wednesday, October 4 for continuation of trial.
In the charges, Sulaiman, a professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Abuja; and Belgore, a former governorship aspirant in Kwara State, were accused of conspiring between themselves to commit the offence on March 27, 2015.
The duo were accused of making a cash transaction of N450 million on March 27, 2015, without going through any financial institution.
But they pleaded “not guilty” to the charges.