By Michael Ojo
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) finally arraigned two lawyers, Sarah Omeigha Ajibola, and John Ozovehe Demide before a Federal High Court, Lagos over charges of rigging the 2018 elections of the Nigerian Bar Association(NBA) in favor of the immediate past President of the association, Mr Paul Usoro SAN.
Gavel International had on July 21, 2020 exclusive reported the story of the 14 count charge filed by the anti-corruption agency in charge no FHC/L/118c/2020 where EFCC accused the duo of “conspiring and knowingly altering the e-mail and phone numbers of about 1004 eligible voters of the NBA 2018 elections with the intention that such inauthentic data will be acted upon as genuine during the said election and you thereby committed an offence contrary to section 27(1)(b) over the Cybercrime (Prohibition, Prevention,etc) Act 2015 and punishable under section 13 of the same Act”.
EFCC filed the charges on May 5, 2020 but could not proceed with prosecution due to lockdown that occurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The story caused an outrage as the association’s 2020 elections was only a few weeks away. However, there were similar accusations that the 2020 election that produced the incumbent President, Mr Olumide Akpata was similarly rigged. The NBA Board of Trustees, led by Dr Olisa Agbakoba SAN acknowledged the rigging in its report but promised to work with other bodies within the association to put an end to electronic rigging of votes in subsequent elections.
When the arraignment came up on Thursday, the lawyers pleaded not guilty, and the trial jugde, Justice Chuka Obiozor ordered that they be remanded with the anti-graft agency for seven days in order to fulfill their bail terms, failure of which they will be transferred to the custody of Nigerian Correctional Services (NCoS).
The anti-graft agency claimed that Ajibola, and Demide manipulated the election in favour of Mr Usoro SAN, who was elected 29th NBA President in 2018.
Mr Usoro polled 4,509 votes to defeat his other contenders, Okafor Obi, and Ernest Ojukwu, who got 4,423 as well as 3,313 votes in the just concluded election.
One of the candidates, Mr Ojukwu, condemned the election saying it was characterised by fraud.
The agency filed the 14-count charge, marked FHC/L/118c/2020, against the defendants last May 5.
EFCC counsel, Mrs Bilikisu Buhari Bala, told the court that the defendants committed the offences in August, 2018.
She alleged that they conspired and altered personal details including email addresses and phone numbers of about 1004 eligible voters for the elections, with the intention that such inauthentic data will be acted upon as genuine during the said election.
Some of the voters’ names allegedly falsified were: Gabriel Abijo Oladipo with Supreme Court of Nigeria (SCN) No. 043280; Uthman Adeleye Oluwaseun with SCN No. 088449; David Anakor SCN No. 015233; Chiagoziem Bethel Aninilu, SCN No. 114439 and Bankole Isaac Toyin with SCN no. 024643.
The two lawyers were alleged to have used a smoke model on IP address 126.96.36.199 to commit the electoral fraud.
The offences, according to the prosecutor, contravened and were punishable under sections 27(1)(b), 13, 22(2), 22(3) of the Cybercrime (Prohibition Prevention etc.) Act, 2015.
Their counsel, N. E. Ogeibe and Deborah Ogundele, prayed the court to admit them to bail “in the most liberal terms.”
He told the court that Ajibola was a senior lawyer of over 15 years, and would neither jump bail nor tamper with evidence for the charge.
In a bench ruling, Justice Obiozor admitted each defendant to bail in the sum of N500,000 with one surety each.
The judge while adjourned till April 14, 15, 16, 20, 21 and 22, 2021, for trial.