After several months of apparent reluctance to prosecute, the former chairman of the House of Representatives Ad Hoc Committee on Oil Subsidy, Hon. Farouk Lawan, and the secretary of the committee, Boniface Emenalo, were Friday arraigned at an Abuja High Court for allegedly receiving a bribe of $620,000 from oil magnate, Mr. Femi Otedola.
They were arraigned before Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi. When the charges were read to them, both pleaded not guilty and the judge ordered that the two accused be remanded in Kuje Prison until February 8, when the court will deliver a ruling on their bail application.
Prosecution counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, told the court that the investigations had been concluded and the lists of witnesses filed.
He said he was ready to go on with the trial and applied for the accused to be placed in custody pending the trial date.
Awomolo also told the court that he was served with the application for bail yesterday morning.
He said: "If it is convenient to your Lordship to take the application, we will address your Lordship on issues of law and have authorities in opposing the bail application. Alternatively, we could stand down for them to proceed to the registry to file it, otherwise if the court permits, we could proceed to argue it."
Moving the application for bail, the defence counsel, Mr. Rickey Tarfa, SAN, who led Mike Ozekhome, SAN, said: "My Lord, we have filed our application for bail this morning; we were served with the charges yesterday afternoon. Subject to your Lordship's convenience and that of the prosecuting counsel, my Lord, we are ready to move the application."
Tarfa subsequently applied for the accused persons to be admitted to bail pending the trial. He asked the court to grant them the bail on the most liberal terms.
According to him the accused persons have been on administrative bail and they have never violated any of the terms of bail, adding that the accused have reported to the police on 37 occasions.
But Awomolo in opposing the application for bail reminded the court that Lawan was charged with offences punishable with seven years in prison.
He said: "There is the likelihood of his committing the same offence while on bail; they did not give an undertaking that when they are allowed to return to the National Assembly that they would not be members of any committee and obtain bribe.
"The right to liberty is not absolute as guaranteed by the constitution under Section 35. The accused persons were part and parcel of the enactment of the ICPC Act in year 2000 they know the intention of the law and still got involved in it."
Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi after hearing the arguments of the parties adjourned to February 8th for ruling on the bail application and ordered that the accused persons be remanded in Kuje prisons.
The bribe money was allegedly collected from Otedola to remove his company, Zenon Petroleum and Gas Ltd from the list of companies indicted in the fuel subsidy scam.
They were charged for contravening the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission Act.
An Abuja High Court sitting before Justice Mudashiru Oniyanagi had granted the federal government the permission to prefer a criminal charge under Section 185 (b) of the Criminal Procedure Code against Lawan and his co-accused person, who is an assistant director at the National Assembly.
The seven-count charge was filed by the director of public prosecutions at the Federal Ministry of Justice, Mrs Olufunlayo Fatunde.
At the wake of the oil subsidy crisis, the House of Representatives set up an ad hoc-committee headed by Lawan to probe the oil subsidy regime.
The committee indicted some oil companies and individuals of short-changing the subsidy regime to the tune of N1.7trn.
Caption: Henry Okah,
Okah Now to Be Sentenced March 4
Yemi Adebowale with agency report
A South African court Friday postponed by a month, the sentencing of Henry Okah, the alleged leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, who had earlier been convicted of 13 terrorism charges, including the 2010 Independence Day bombings in Abuja.
"I will postpone this matter for purposes of hearing arguments in mitigation or aggravation for sentencing. That's the final postponement," high court judge, Neels Claassen said.
He said the sentencing would run three days from February 28 through March 4.
Okah intends to bring five witnesses from Nigeria and the United States before the sentencing.
He was found guilty of masterminding attacks including twin car bombings in Abuja on October 1, 2010, and two explosions in March 2010 in Warri, a major hub of the oil-rich Delta region. He faces a minimum term of life in prison.
But prosecution was opposed to the deferment of the sentencing yesterday.
"I am disappointed that the matter didn't proceed today; it's just basically justice being delayed," Shaun Abrahams told reporters after the application was granted.
The 46-year-old, who has permanent residency in South Africa, was arrested at his Johannesburg home on October 2, 2010, a day after the twin car bombings that killed 12 people.
MEND, which in 2010 was an armed group fighting for a greater share of the Delta oil wealth, claimed responsibility for the attacks that took place as Nigeria celebrated the 50-year anniversary of its independence.
Okah has denied being the leader of MEND, and involvement in the Abuja blasts, claiming the charges were politically-motivated.
MEND has a history of staging fierce attacks on oil facilities and kidnapping expatriate workers in the Delta region.
All these have since reduced following the declaration and acceptance of amnesty by the Yar'Adua administration.
Okah is thought to be the first foreign national to be tried for terrorism in South Africa.
He has been in custody since his arrest.