|File: Diezani Alison-Madueke|
Apart from the problem with his confirmation as the substantive Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, one other thing that worries Mr Ibrahim Magu is the bleak prospect of having a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke, extradited from the United Kingdom to Nigeria to face trial on corruption charges.
The EFCC alleged that Diezani fled to the UK after leaving office in 2015 upon realising that an investigation of various allegations of acts of corruption perpetrated by her and her cronies while in office as minister had started.
The commission, under Magu’s watch as the acting Chairman, has earned some points with its non-conviction-based recovery of assets linked to Diezani, but the agency appears to be poised to score more points with the former minister’s extradition and trial in Nigeria.
In September 2019, Justice Nicholas Oweibo of the Federal High Court in Lagos, at the instance of the commission, ordered that the 2,149 pieces of jewellery and a customised gold iPhone, valued at $40m and recovered from the Abuja home of the former minister be permanently forfeited to the Federal Government.
These were among other assets which the EFCC has secured their forfeiture to the Federal Government on the grounds that they were part of the proceeds of alleged corrupt activities of the former minister.
Earlier in August 2017, Justice Chuka Obiozor, also of the Federal High Court in Lagos, ordered a permanent forfeiture of a $37.5m mansion on Banana Island, Lagos, which was also linked to Diezani.
In October, the same year, Justice Abdulaziz Anka, also of the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court, ordered the permanent forfeiture of 58 houses which the EFCC said Diezani purchased for $22m.
Speaking in February this year in Kaduna at a press conference preparatory to the passing out parade of EFCC trainees at the Nigerian Defence Academy, Kaduna, Magu alleged that that the “woman has stolen so much, not less than 2.5bn dollars” as he regretted that “unfortunately, she has a generation of looters who are supporting her”.
Uncomfortable with seeming lack of readiness of the UK authorities to release Diezani to be extradited to Nigeria for prosecution, Magu said the ex-minister “is under protective custody, otherwise, we would have arrested her and returned her to Nigeria.”
Earlier in January this year, Magu, who has been functioning in acting capacity as the EFCC’s helmsman since 2015, while on an official visit to the Ibadan zonal office of the commission, expressed worry that the UK government appeared to be “protecting” the former minister in the face of sufficient evidence to get her charged with various alleged offences.
“They have not taken her to court and this is the fifth year. Why should you be investigating a case for five years? It is a straightfoward case and not a murder case which takes long processes,” he said.
Eager to have her back in Nigeria, the EFCC boss added, “I don’t know why they are protecting her. Release her and let her come back to Nigeria. They are giving her protection for whatever reason known to them.
“They are yet to declare any pieces of evidence recovered against her. They are still relying on our evidence.”
In demonstration of its readiness to have Diezani extradited to Nigeria, the commission has filed separate charges at the Federal High Court in Abuja and the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, as required for the extradition process.
On December 4, 2018, Justice Justice Valentine Ashi (now deceased), of the Federal Capital Territory High Court in Apo, Abuja, ordered the former minister’s arrest to face the corruption charges filed against her and a former Chairman, Atlantic Energy Drilling Company, Mr Jide Omokore.
At the Federal High Court in Abuja, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu, became impatient with the commission for its inability to produce the former minister in court in respect of the charges that had been filed against her since 2018.
The judge, who was concerned that the commission had not taken any step in the case to bring the former minister to court, had on November 12, 2020 threatened to strike out the charges if by March 10, 2020, if the situation remained the same.
But the commission’s lawyer, Faruk Abdullah, was able to persuade the judge to backtrack on her threat to strike out the case after promising to file an application for the court to issue a warrant for the arrest of the former minister.
Abdullah had said, “We have submitted our extradition request to the UK authorities and we have done everything we needed to do.
“This is a case on which the extradition request is predicated. Once this matter is struck out, the whole extradition process will collapse like a pack of cards.
“We plead with the court to exercise more patience and continue to keep this matter in the docket.”
But the zest with which the EFCC is pursuing the extradition of Diezani is in sharp contrast to the commission’s position in its opposition to an application filed by the former minister in August 2017 asking for the order of Justice Nnamdi Dimgba before whom her ally, Omokore, is being prosecuted along with others, at the Federal High Court in Abuja, to compel the Attorney-General of the Federation to bring her to Nigeria to be joined as a defendant in the case.
The application filed on behalf of the former minister by her lawyer, Dr Onyechi Ikpeazu (SAN), prayed that she be joined alongside the five existing six defendants in the case.
She stated that it was alleged in Count 8 in the case that she and three others “did aid and abet the commission of money laundering by certain named individuals”, but “was not served any notice of arraignment as the complainant was bound to”.
The application added, “The applicant is willing to appear in court to defend herself, but her name was surreptitiously left out of the list of defendants despite the fact that the applicant is a named defendant by virtue of the disclosure in Count 8 of the charge”.
The EFCC, through its private prosecutor, Mr Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), opposed the application, which it described as an abuse of court process allegedly designed to disrupt the smooth progress of the ongoing trial before the court
An operative of the EFCC, Rufai Zaki, the deponent to the commission’s counter-affidavit, added that the application was a ploy by the former minister to escape investigation and an “imminent” trial in the UK.
Zaki, in what appeared to be an expression of the EFCC’s satisfaction with the process the UK authorities were subjecting the former minister to in the foreign land, stated that “the applicant (Diezani) seeing that the investigation by the Metropolitan Police had reached advanced stage and that trial in the instant charge before this honourable court is proceeding smoothly had designed the instant application to distract and scuttle both her investigation and imminent prosecution in the United Kingdom and the trial before the honourable court.”
The operative added, “The applicant, who knows full well that she is on bail in the United Kingdom where she is being investigated for several financial crimes and that she would not be able to leave that country in view of the ongoing investigation and imminent trial, is seeking the order of this honourable court for the charge before this honourable court to be amended to include her name on the face of the charge in order for her to escape from investigation and prosecution in the United Kingdom under the guise that she is coming to face her trial before this honourable court and also to scuttle the trial before this honourable court.”
Similarly in November 2017, Diezani, through her lawyer, Obinna Onya, had urged the Federal High Court in Lagos to compel the Attorney General of the Federation, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), to bring her back to Nigeria from the United Kingdom.
She said she would like to appear in court in Nigeria to defend a criminal charge, bordering on alleged laundering of N450m, where her name had been mentioned.
The main defendants in the charge are a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Dele Belgore; and a former Minister of National Planning, Prof. Abubakar Suleiman.
Belgore and Suleiman were charged before Justice Rilwan Aikawa with allegedly collecting N450m from Diezani and laundering same in the build-up to the 2015 general elections.
The EFCC, which filed the charges, claimed that the N450m was part of a sum of $115m which Diezani allegedly doled out to compromise the 2015 general elections.
Onya, a lawyer from Abuja, appeared before Justice Aikawa with an application seeking the joining of Diezani as one of the defendants in the charge.
The application, filed pursuant to Section 36(1),(5),(6 (a)-(e) of the Constitution and sections 216 (1) (2) (3) (4); and 217 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, sought an amendment to the charges against Belgore and Suleiman so as to join Diezani as one of the defendants.
The lawyer contended that contrary to the declaration by the EFCC that Diezani was at large, the former minister was in the UK and was willing to return to Nigeria so that she could appear in court to take her plea and defend the charges.
The lawyer argued that since Diezani’s name had been mentioned in the charge, it would be against her right to fair hearing for the case to proceed without affording her the opportunity to defend herself.
The application prayed for an order “mandating the Attorney General of the Federation, being the agent of the complainant, to facilitate the prompt appearance of the applicant in court on the next adjourned date, to take her plea and to defend the allegations made against her in counts 1, 2, 3 and 4 of the charge, numbered FHC/L/35c/2017.”
But the EFCC, through its lawyer, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, vehemently opposed the application which he described as an abuse of court processes.
Justice Aikawa eventually dismissed the application.
The current move by the EFCC to have Diezani extradited to Nigeria now, as against its former position, seem to suggest a crisis of confidence between the Nigerian anti-graft agency and the UK authorities.
Curiously, Magu seems to be alone in the campaign for Diezani’s extradition to Nigeria.
Several enquiries by our correspondent at the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation, the office with the exclusive power to make a valid request for extradition of persons from a foreign country to Nigeria, were unanswered.
Recently, Dr Umar Gwandu, the spokesperson for the AGF, Mr Abubakar Malami (SAN), promised to provide an answer to such enquiries by our correspondent, but has yet to fulfill the promise since February 28, 2020.
Also despite Magu’s repeated outcry against the UK authorities’ handling of the Diezani’s case, the foreign government has yet to make any comment on the subject.