31 December 2013

Nigeria: Top 10 Newsmakers in Lagos in 2013

Photo: Global Integrity
Africa 2013.

The capacity of Nigeria's commercial capital to always be in the news has never been in doubt. But a string of characters and institutions, in 2013, carved a niche for themselves for their ingenuity at always finding their way into the news and staying put for extended periods. We present the top 10 News makers in Lagos in 2013 in no particular order:

1. Adeyemi Ikuforiji

When the ebullient Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly was not superintending affairs at Lagos House, he was at the Federal High Court, Lagos, where he is embracing a crowd of friends and political hangers-on who had come on solidarity over his fraud trial.

Mr. Ikuforiji is facing a 54-count amended charge of laundering over N600 million instituted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.

Earlier in the year, the Speaker, who is charged alongside Oyebode Atoyebi, his Personal Assistant, had asked the court to strike out the fraud charges against him for "lack of diligent prosecution."

By the middle of the year, Okechukwu Okeke, the trial judge, retired from the bench paving the way for the two year old trial to be transferred to another judge and proceedings starting afresh.

The new judge, Ibrahim Buba, needing to stamp his feet in the case began the trial by imposing a N1 billion bail bond on the Speaker and directing security agencies to hound him into jail if he fails to come up with the sum in 48 hours.

The Speaker delivered.

After the initial delays and adjournments - similar to what transpired before the previous judge - the trial commenced. So also was the visit of a retinue of legislators, legislators' aides, politicians, hangers-on, friends and families to the Federal High Court premises every time the speaker was billed to make an appearance.

The crowd - and their Speaker - will return to the court on January 7, 2014.

2. Lagos State government

In February, the Lagos State government made negative headlines across the world. One swing of the blade of the state government's bulldozer rendered thousands homeless in the Badia slum. The local media feasted on it. The foreign media joined the bandwagon. Months later, Amnesty International made public its report stating that over 9,000 people were left without roofs over their heads.

A frantic Lagos State government organized a series of damage-control press conferences, one in which it stated that the slum was demolished to make room for a modern 1004 flats. But it was too little too late.

Reports of the state government sending children to prisons surfaced in August, embarrassing the governor and forcing the state to free some of the under aged inmates.

In July, the state government was in the news again over an 'unlawful' deportation saga. The state governor had sent some destitute people packing from the state back to their homes in Anambra State, a move which sent the Anambra governor into a fury.

Two weeks later, Orji Kalu, former Abia State governor, dragged Lagos State into the news again, accusing the government of witch-hunting him by sealing his Lagos home because he condemned the deportation of the destitutes.

Other incidents such as buying back the concessioned Lekki-Epe Expressway, commencement of tolling on the new Lekki-Ikoyi link bridge, and heading to the Supreme Court to reverse Major Hamza Al-Mustapha's acquittal ensured that Lagos was a regular feature in news reports in 2013.

3. Lagos State Police Command

In the early hours of one Wednesday in March, a group of police officers opened fire at fellow security officials - men of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps, NSCDC, on their way back from arresting some pipeline vandals in Ikorodu, Lagos.

Two NSCDC officers were killed.

But the state police command quickly absolved its officers of wrongdoing in the incident, instead, insisting that the NSCDC officers disarmed and arrested its officers.

In June 2013, a secretly recorded video where a police officer was soliciting for a N25,000 bribe from a motorist was uploaded to the web. The video went viral within minutes. Days later, the culprit, Sergeant Chris Omeleze, was dismissed from the Force.

The public were ecstatic.

A month later, another secretly taped video surfaced, this time involving two female police corporals demanding for a bribe from another bus driver.

Again, the officers were promptly shown the door.

The public were delirious.

And so in November, when some police officers who were harassing a commercial bus driver noticed Abragahou Aminu filming them with his camera phone; the hapless French language teacher was made to pay for the sins of the previous camera men.

First, he was given the beating of his life, and then locked up at Ketu Police Station. And then he was transferred to Area F Police Command, later to the State Anti-Robbery Squad. In the end he spent 7 days in various police cells and the police filed a "breach of public peace" charge against him at the Magistrate court.

Also, in June, a police officer identified as Corporal Azukah, in a hurry to get his superior's mistress to catch her flight, drove against traffic on a one way road and knocked down Taskirat Anjolaiya, a nursing mother, and her newborn baby. After depositing an initial N70,000 for treatment, the officer disappeared.

4. Fred Ajudua

Watching Fred Chijindu Ajudua standing in the dock alongside his co-accused, Charles Orie, evokes an uncanny image of the Philistine's Goliath standing, blank-faced, side by side with the diminutive David the giantslayer. Except that this time the characters were in a court room in Lagos facing criminal charges of allegedly defrauding two Dutch businessmen of $1.69 million.

After performing the most daring vanishing act the EFCC had seen since its establishment, Mr. Ajudua resurfaced early this year, after a seven year hiatus, to resume his trial before Justice Olubunmi Oyewole.

At every court sitting, the duo would stand in the dock, with Mr. Orie's clean-shaven head periodically bumping against Mr. Ajudua's beefy arm.

As the year 2013 wore on, Mr. Ajudua's huge frame became a common sight at the Ikeja high court. If he was not before Justice Oyewole denying the fraud allegations against him, he was filing a bail application before Justice Ganiyu Safari. By the eighth month of the year, his only surviving kidney had collapsed and he was rushed to the prison clinic and thereafter to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital.

While Mr. Ajudua was recuperating in the hospital, the EFCC began filing, before Justice Atinuke Ipaye, a fresh set of fraud charges masterminded by him. The commission said that he duped Ishaya Bamaiyi, a retired army Lieutenant-General, of US$8.395 million between November 2004 and June 2005 while both were incarcerated at the Kirikiri Prisons.

5. Femi Fani-Kayode

If Femi Fani-Kayode was a fly, the year 2013 would have been one in which he was swathed with a giant sledge hammer. Such was the persona of the intelligent but controversial former Aviation minister that when he was not speaking "the bitter truth" about an ethnic group, he was writing about his "long standing and intimate relationship" with beauty queens. Or he was explaining to Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia why Festus Keyamo cannot prosecute him for an alleged N230 million fraud. Or he was dishing out advice to the current Aviation minister on how to stop our aircrafts from falling off the sky. Or he was professing his passion for his new-found love, the APC.

If Chinua Achebe's swan song 'There Was A Country: A Personal History of Biafra' provoked a heated backlash from the Yorubas against the Igbos in 2012; Mr. Fani-Kayode's diatribe 'The Bitter Truth About the Igbos', in the wake of Governor Babatunde Fashola's deportation of some Igbo destitutes from Lagos, had the same effect, but in the reverse direction, in 2013.

"Igbos have a domineering tendency and are not accommodating because they never had any history, monarchs or structured societies," Mr. Fani-Kayode wrote.

The outrage generated by the article was such that Nelson Okoli, the National Legal Adviser of the Eastern Professionals Forum, described his reading of it as an "ugly experience."

6. Murtala Mohammed Airport

Lagosians woke up on June 13 to the rare sight of an aircraft taxing along the road in Mangoro. Since there was no airport or airstrip in that area, residents concluded that the plane had fallen off the sky. Within an hour, the social media became agog with stories of another plane crash in Lagos until the National Emergency Management Agency waded in to debunk the rumours - a scrap aeroplane was being evacuated from the Murtala Mohammed Airport en route Badagry. And since it could no longer fly, it had to be dragged by a towing truck.

However, exactly four months later, an actual aircraft, an Embraer EMB 120 conveying 20 people, fell off the Lagos sky and crashed inside the premises of the Murtala Mohammed Airport. Six people died on the spot.

7. My Pikin Teething Mixture

When Judge Okechukwu Okeke pronounced the death sentence on Barewa Pharmaceuticals and sent Adeyemo Abiodun and Egbele Eromosele, two of the company's employees, to seven months in prison; Mr. Abiodun's blood pressure shot up. A doctor was rushed into the crowded court room and the judge forced to suspend reading his judgment for the accused to receive medical attention.

The judgment, however, drew the curtains on the activities of the pharmaceutical company whose deadly product, My Pikin Teething syrup, killed over 80 children across the country in 2009.

8. Baba Suwe

On the last day of May 2013, Babatunde Omidina, a.k.a Baba Suwe, lost his N25 million. Two years after a Lagos High Court had awarded him the millions for his illegal detention by the NDLEA, the Court of Appeal upturned the judgment. The Yoruba movie star has since headed to the Supreme Court to recover the money.


The National Emergency Management Agency, NEMA, spent the better part of 2013 re-enacting the historical federal government-Lagos State feud with the Lagos State Emergency Management Agency, LASEMA.

Every time a building collapsed in Lagos (and there were lots of them in 2013), journalists were always treated to the cold war festering between the two emergency management agencies.

If both agencies were not dishing out different casualty figures, they were bickering over who was the first to arrive at a rescue site.

It was at one of the sites, in Surulere, that the animosity blew into the open. Ibrahim Farinloye, NEMA South-West Spokesperson, was addressing journalists at the site of the building collapse when Wale Ahmed, Commissioner for Special Duties, ordered him out of the scene. Police officers attached to the commissioner enforced the order and bundled Mr. Farinloye out of the site. Mr. Farinloye later informed his superiors in Abuja that the police officers "chased" him out of the rescue site. But headquarters told him to let "peace reign."

However, when contacted by PREMIUM TIMES, Mr. Ahmed insisted he did not ask Mr. Farinloye to leave.

"I only told him it was quite premature to start granting interview when we were yet to know what was still under the rubble," Mr. Ahmed said.

Twice in 2013, there were rumours of a vehicle veering off the Third Mainland bridge and plunging into the lagoon. And twice, NEMA officials raced across the 11.8 kilometre bridge only to discover it was a hoax.

In January however, a Sports Utility vehicle skidded off the Adekunle junction of the bridge and plunged into the lagoon. The driver survived.

10. Wale Babalakin

If ever there was one individual who tried to exploit all the loopholes in the Lagos State criminal justice system in 2013, it was the billionaire business man and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Olawale Babalakin. After performing a series of court room disappearing acts towards the end of 2012, amongst which was occupying a bed at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital, Mr. Babalakin was finally arraigned on January 17, 2013.

The EFCC alleged that he aided the convicted former Delta State governor, James Ibori, to loot N4.7 billion from the state's treasury.

After the arraignment, Mr. Babalakin's lawyers, which included at least three senior advocates went to work. First, they filed an application to quash the charges, arguing that the EFCC did not obtain a valid fiat from the AGF to prosecute him. Then they filed another one urging the court to adjourn the matter sine die (indefinitely). There was also a pending application at the Court of Appeal. Next, he began filing applications to travel abroad for medical check-up (twice in three months) and Judge Adeniyi Onigbanjo granted him the leave on both occasions.

At a court hearing in July, Mr. Babalakin was nowhere near the court room after the judge said that he needed more time to finish writing his rulings on all the applications he filed - four in all. Mr. Babalakin's lawyer, however, told the judge that his client was "within the vicinity" of the court but was using crutches and would require a wheelchair to be moved into the court room.

Eight months after his arraignment, the trial judge was still adjourning to rule on the plethora of applications before him.

Earlier in the year, about one month after he was arraigned for fraud at the state high court, Mr. Babalakin was at the federal high court, this time as a counsel to Femi Fani-Kayode who was being prosecuted for a N230 million money laundering allegation.

By December, after Mr. Babalakin's trial had been transferred from Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo to Justice Lateef Lawal-Akapo, his lawyers began filing a different king of application. They urged the judge to grant their client the leave to stay away from the dock pending the determination of the charges against him. Mr. Lawal-Akapo agreed with them and "excused" the defendants from the dock.

By the time 2013 drew to an end, Mr. Babalakin had made history as the first individual to have stood in the dock, as a suspected criminal; sat at the bar, as a senior advocate; and sat at the gallery, as a spectator in one judicial year.

At the last court hearing for the year, Mr. Babalakin, dressed in a navy blue suit and white shirt, sat at the public gallery, alongside journalists and trainee lawyers, yelling "As the court pleases" to the judge's pronouncements.

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