How far can Adoke delay trial over $1.2bn Malabu scam?

By Eric Ojo

FOR the former Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke, SAN, the maxim that home is the ultimate rings true. After running around in   Europe and the Middle East, he finally arrived Thursday afternoon to the warm embrace of operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, at the Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport, Abuja.

Let no one pass judgement on this prominent Ebirra son who served his country selflessly. At least not until justice has served its full course in financial malfeasance, the infamous $1.2 billion Malabu Oil scandal.

The EFCC, in 2017, filed charges against Shell Nigeria Exploration Production Company Limited and 10 others, including Adoke and Nigeria Agip Exploration Limited

The anti-corruption agency in the case marked FCT/HC/CR/124/17, filed charges bordering on a fraudulent allocation of the Oil Prospecting Licence 245 and other forms of offences involving the sum of about $1.2 billion, forgery of bank documents, bribery and corruption.

Adoke, in a motion, M/763/19 filed by his counsel, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, sought an order of the court to strike out his name as a defendant in the case before the court. The former minister hinged his prayer, among others, on the fact that he had secured a judgment of the Federal High Court in Abuja, against the Attorney-General of the Federation, representing the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which completely exculpated him with respect to the facts and circumstances relating to the Malabu Oil scam.

A few days ago, Justice Danladi Senchi of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory   adjourned till December 12, hearing in the application filed by Adoke, seeking to remove his name from the Malabu oil scam trial.

Reports said Adoke was arrested by the INTTERPOL in Abu Dhabi on November 13. From   custody the former Attorney General had sought freedom but the request was rejected on the grounds that the international police organization deals with states and not individuals. Adoke’s lawyers also sought his release on the premise that the warrant of arrest issued against him by Justice Senchi had been vacated on October 25, this year.

The Interpol responded by saying that it can only comply with the order if duly notified by the Federal Government, insisting that unless Adoke’s status (whether or not the arrest warrant has been vacated) is classified, he may remain in custody.  For a few days, the government, the Interpol and Adoke’s lead counsel, Ozekhome were engrossed in conflicting legal interpretations.

Until his return to Abuja, Adoke has insisted that he did not benefit from the deal, which he said saved the government from a breach of contract suit in which Shell was claiming $2 billion. His defence: “I hope to at the appropriate time, make myself available to defend the charge for what whatever its worth”. Moreover, he describes the charges against him as “orchestrated plan to bring me to public disrepute in order to satisfy the whims and caprices of some powerful interests on revenge mission.”

The hide and seek may come to an end soon now that Adoke has played smart to avoid extradition by “returning voluntarily”. Earlier, the Chairman of the Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay had expressed optimism that Adoke would  be extradited from the UAE as charges and other documents were sent to the relevant authorities.

Sagay had said: “The charges against him have been forwarded to Dubai. The authorities of the UAE will then determine that there are serious charges against him and then trigger the implementation of the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty which would see him being brought to Nigeria for trial with or without extradition proceedings. The charges will ensure that he is held pending the appropriate steps being made to ensure his extradition”. 

Some analysts and public affairs commentators have also harped on the need to deal with seemingly slippery case with less emphasis on legal technicalities as it may create room for further gratuitous delay and suspense which is reminiscent of a typical; serialized Nollywood move with several boring parts.

Sagay agrees totally with this position. In his words of caution, the PACA Chairman said: “This is a time that the judiciary should avoid technicalities and dwell on the substance of the matter. If I were sitting at the court what I would ask myself is, ‘does this man have a case to answer?’ If that is the case, whether he has been served or not are mere technicalities”. This might be a leeway, however all these will play out with time.

Meanwhile, Nigerians are waiting anxiously to see how Adoke’s fate will be decided in this very intriguing and unfolding matter of national and international interest.

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