By Olalekan Awojodu
After standing trial for eight years, former Federal lawmaker, Farouk Lawan was has been sentenced to seven (7) years imprisonment over $500,000 bribery allegations.
The judgment was in Suit No FCT/HC/CR/76/2013 instituted by the federal government against him.
The verdict which spanned hours when it was being read as at 2.20 p.m was giving by Justice Angela Otaluka of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court in Apo, Abuja.
But after some hours of proceedings, the trial judge, gave the verdict, where it found the former legislator guilty of all the three counts of bribery. The bribery scandal that nailed Lawan, Gavel International reports, was in respect of some allegations against certain companies indicted for fuel subsidy fraud when he held sway as the Chairman of the defunct House of Representatives ad-hoc committee investigating the fraud around fuel subsidy regime in 2012.
After a case of bribery allegation has been established against him, the former lawmaker was thereafter arraigned on charges of receiving a bribe of $500,000 from Femi Otedola, a billionaire oil magnate.
The money it was alleged was part of the $3milllion Lawan requested to have the businessman’s firms name removed from the list of companies indicted for fuel subsidy fraud.
The Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC), while arraigning him in 2012 on a three (3) count charge, had alleged that he demanded $3 million from business mogul Femi Otedola.
Trial in a glance
Justice Otaluka was the fifth judge to preside over the trial of the erstwhile lawmaker after he was initially arraigned in 2012 over the matter. Earlier it will be recalled that the same court had dismissed Lawan’s preliminary objection against his trial.
As the proceedings which first berthed before Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi of the FCT High Court at Maitama progresses, some pundits has however described it as tortuous while others were quick to dismiss the assertion, insisting that the law must take its course.
The beleaguered lawmaker’s travail reportedly started in 2013 when the now Minister of State Labour, Festus Keyamo then into private practice gave the Nigerian police 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 has passed its 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 AGF, Mohammed Adoke, to prosecute them; failure of which he threatened to commence a private prosecution against the politicians.
He 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 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,” the lawyer stated.
Twists that follows
Meanwhile in 2017 during one of its sittings, an Abuja High Court domiciled in Jabi, had fixed July 5 for the Federal Government to re-arraign Lawan, on an amended three-count bribery charge, just as the anti-graft agency later amended the charge and converted Emenalo to a prosecution witness. He thereafter gave his evidence-in-chief before Justice Angela Otaluka of an Abuja High Court at Lugbe.
Months after, Justice Otaluka got a directive to hands-off the case by Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, Justice Ishaq Bello, following a petition by Lawal, who was accusing her of being biased.Not done, the defendant allegedly leveled 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, after Lawan, in a petition sent to the Chief Judge insisted that the judge was close to Otedola who was billed to testify against him, insisting that the Judge was likely to manifest bias against him since she was a family friend to the proposed witness.
Recall that 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, SAN, in his letter that was received by the AGF on June 8, 2017, stressed that Lawal had become “notorious for making undeserved allegation when he feels he is likely to lose”.
The prosecution decried that the case was always transferred by the Chief Judge 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”.
Lawan had in his latest petition dated March 21, urged the Chief Judge to disqualify Justice Otaluka who he said had personal interest, from him trial.
Lawal’s complaints were mainly the alleged refusal of Justice Otaluka to adjourn the trial on different occasions to enable his lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, to 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”, Lawal added.
The prosecution had earlier tendered a video clip that showed Lawal 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 for about three minutes was played in the open court by the prosecuting counsel, Mr. Awomolo, SAN.
According to Awomolo: “My lord the video I just played are those of Mr. Femi Otedola and Hon. Farouq Lawal, where there was an exchange of parcel at Otedola’s house in Aso drive, Abuja”.
In his evidence-in-chief, Mr. 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, Lawal’s lawyer, Chief Ozekhome, SAN, while cross-examining the witness, said that 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.
Lawal’s lawyer equally insisted that there was also nothing in the video to suggest that bribery was discussed because such words like “bribe” was not heard in the video.
ICPC alleged that Lawal 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.
Gales of testimony
Emenalo who testified as the PW-1, earlier gave reasons why he accepted $100,000 from Otedola.He told the court that he took the money to expose Otedola’s move to compromise members of the subsidy committee.Emenalo said that he collected the $100,000 bribe money from Otedola in $100 bills.
He told the court that the first meeting he had with Otedola was on Sunday, April 22, 2012, with a follow-up meeting between them on Tuesday, April 24, 2012 at the oil mogul’s Abuja residence at Aso Drive, Maitama.He further told the court that 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 that it was during the second meeting that Otedola gave him the $100,000.
And the verdict
In her judgment on Tuesday, the trial judge, Ms Otaluka, held that from the pool of evidence before the court, the prosecuting lawyer, Adegboyega Awomolo, had established a case of corrupt practices against the defendant in Count One of the charge which borders on corruptly requesting a bribe of three million dollars. That statement was made after she had ecaluate evidences in respect of the trial.
In her declaration, the judge also held that the embattled former lawmaker conduct had elements of corruption.
The Judge affirmed, “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,”