Vanguard (Lagos)

23 February 2013

Nigeria: N55 Million Budget Scandal - S-Court Okays Nwabara, Osuji, Others for Trial

Abuja — Three years after they were handed a clean bill of health by the Abuja Division of the Appeal Court, the Supreme Court, yesterday, gave the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, the nod to prosecute erstwhile Senate President, Chief Adolphus Nwabara and former Minister of Education, Prof. Fabian Osuji, over alleged roles they played in the N55million money-for-budget scandal that rocked the upper legislative house in 2005.

Equally okayed for trial yesterday was Senator Ibrahim Abdulazeez who the anti-graft agency said was among the legislators that benefited from an initial N50million bribe that was offered to the then Senate by Prof. Osuji with a view to ensuring favourable passage of the year 2005 budget of the Federal Ministry of Education.

The accused persons were hitherto answering to a 15-count criminal charge bordering on bribery and corruption.

It will be recalled that the ICPC had on April 12, 2005, arraigned the ex-Senate President alongside six others before an Abuja High Court presided by Justice Hussein Muktar who eventually granted the accused persons bail on self recognition after they each deposited N10million.

Aside the aforementioned persons, others who equally pleaded not guilty to the charge were Senators John Azuta Mbata, Emmanuel Okpede, Badamasi Maccido and one Dr Garba Shehu Matazu.

Nevertheless, shortly after they were arraigned, the accused persons urged the trial court to quash the charge against them, insisting that the proof of evidence did not disclose a prima-facie case capable of warranting their prosecution.

Following refusal of trial Justice Muktar to accede to their request, Wabara and four of his co-accused persons took the matter before the appeal court in Abuja, where they contended that the trial judge erred in law by granting the ICPC leave to prefer a charge against them when its application to do so was not accompanied by statement on oath disclosing sufficient evidence of commission of any offence.

It was also their argument that the application by the ICPC was not supported by statements of "Star witness" such as Senator Chris Adigbije whose three incriminating statements against them they said were not attached to the application.

Besides, they accused the then President, Olusegun Obasanjo of prejudicing the minds of the public including the trial judge through a national broadcast wherein he was said to have directed the trial judge to go ahead and jail them for their manifest corrupt tendencies at the legislative house.

In its verdict that was delivered by Justice Mary Peter Odili on June 1, 2010, the appellate court panel upheld the arguments of the accused persons and not only quashed the charge against them, but equally discharged all of them.

Meantime, before the appellate court could conclude the proceeding before it, two of the accused Senators, Okpede and Maccido, who were part of those that endorsed the appeal, died.

Dissatisfied with the judgment, ICPC, proceeded to the Supreme Court were it posed eight questions for determination, among which included whether the appellate court was right in holding that for the consent of the high court judge to prefer charge to be secured pursuant to section 340(2) (a) and (b) of the Criminal Procedure Code, such application must be accompanied by statements on oath or otherwise disclosing sufficient evidence of the commission of an offence.

"Whether the appeal court was right to hold that the national broadcast by the President of Nigeria, was a communication to the trial judge by a person in command of influence over him and that the broadcast, was clear example of the manipulation of the judiciary and judicial process by the executive.

As well as "whether the appeal court erred in law when they held that the accused persons had not in any way been implicated in the proofs of evidence supplied with the application for consent."

In their unanimous judgment yesterday, a five-man panel of justices of the Supreme Court led by Justice Dattijo Muhammad upturned the decision of the appellate court, saying "the judgment of the court below to the contrary is perverse."

The apex court further relied on the decided case-law in Oniah v Onyia, 1989, 1-NWLR, part 79 and the case of Adebayo V Babalola, 1995, 7-NWLR, part 405, and held that after carefully examining the proof of evidence, statements of the accused persons, other relevant exhibits and documents tendered by the ICPC, it was satisfied that they disclosed "sufficient materials on the basis of which the trial court exercised its discretion judiciously and judicially.

"on the whole, I hereby allow the meritorious appeal, set-aside the judgment of the court below, restore the trial court's decision and remit the case to the court for the trial of the respondents to be conducted and concluded expeditiously," Justice Muhammad held.

The other Justices who concurred to the judgment yesterday were Justices Ibrahim Tanko Muhammad, John Afolabi Fabiyi, Olukayode Ariwoola and Kumai Bayan Aka'ahs.

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