Premium Times (Abuja)

Nigeria: Top 10 Newsmakers in Lagos in 2013

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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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