Nigeria: Malabu – EFCC Queries Prosecutor for Declaring No Evidence of Wrongdoing Against Adoke, Others

EFCC, in a statement shared with PREMIUM TIMES, says it has not surrendered concerning the Malabu case.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) says it has issued a query to its prosecutor who declared a lack of evidence to secure the conviction of key defendants facing trial in the Malabu case.

Offem Uket had conceded the prosecution’s lack of evidence in a filing submitted to the court last December. He made the turnaround in the case after calling 10 prosecution witnesses in a trial that had lasted almost four years.

But the EFCC, in a statement shared with PREMIUM TIMES, said Mr Uket made the major concession on his own without the commission’s approval.

“The truth of the matter is that the prosecution counsel, Offem Uket, that submitted that the EFCC lacked sufficient evidence to successfully prosecute six of the seven defendants standing trial in the case, was on a frolic of his own and has since been queried by the commission,” read partly the statement.

The statement was responding to PREMIUM TIMES’ reporting of the 12 January hearing of the case at the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court in Abuja.

It alleged that this newspaper slanted its lawyer’s request for an adjournment of proceedings in the case to portray “EFCC as a desperate agency of government hunting for evidence in the trial of all the defendants implicated in the OPL 245 oil block awarded to Malabu Oil and Gas Limited in 1998.”

The statement said its lawyer, Sylvanus Tahir, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, who appeared for the prosecution at the proceeding, only “sought the adjournment for him to sufficiently address the court having been instructed to take over the case owing to some developments in the matter the EFCC found disconcerting.”

The trial revolves around allegations of bribery and defrauding of the Nigerian government in a $1.1 billion transaction concerning the lucrative OPL 245 oil block. The oil block was first awarded to the Malabu Oil and Gas Limited under controversial circumstances in 1998, setting off decades-long convoluted ownership battles, in which, prosecutors said, the Nigerian government was shortchanged.

Among the principal defendants in the case is a former Attorney General of the Federation, Mohammed Adoke, who was accused of being influenced by bribes to facilitate the $1.1 billion deal for the transfer of the oil block from Malabu to two oil giants -Eni and Shell in 2011.

Other prime defendants are the Nigerian subsidiaries of the oil giants – Nigeria Agip Exploration Limited, Shell Nigeria Extra Deep Limited and Shell Nigeria Exploration Production Company Limited.

They are charged alongside Aliyu Abubakar, Rasky Gbinigie as well as Malabu Oil and Gas Limited.

The prosecution closed its case after calling its 10th witness in October, prompting the defendants to file their separate no-case submissions, calling on the court to end the trial without the case proceeding to the defence stage. Their reason was that the EFCC, with its 10 prosecution witnesses, failed to lead credible evidence linking them to the offences alleged in the 40 counts filed in the case.

Responding to Mr Adoke’s no-case submission, Mr Uket conceded in a filing in December that no incriminating evidence was led against the defendants except Mr Gbinigie, who faces 35 of the 40 charges.

The court fixed 12 January for a hearing on the no-case submission.

‘Rescue mission’

But in a move to rescue the case, the EFCC sent one of its senior lawyers, Sylvanus Tahir, to court on 12 January to urge the judge to defer the adoption of arguments on the no-case submission and grant a “short adjournment” of the case.

Mr Tahir, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), agreed that the sitting was for the adoption of the written arguments of parties on the no-case submission filed by the defendants, but pleaded with the judge to postpone the hearing to enable the government to review the case.

Other defence lawyers opposed the application for adjournment, insisting that it would be unfair to grant the prosecution’s request after parties had exchanged filings on the defendants’ no-case submission.

The judge, Idris Kutigi, agreed with the defendants and refused to grant the adjournment requested. He ordered parties to proceed to address him on the no-case submission. After the arguments, the judge fixed 29 February for ruling, which would decide whether to end the case or direct the defendants or part of them to open their defence.

‘No surrender’

But responding to PREMIUM TIMES reporting of the proceeding, the EFCC said, in a statement sent to this newspaper on 17 January, that it “has not ‘surrendered’ in any way concerning the Malabu case.”

It stated: “The Executive Chairman never instructed Uket to throw in the towel in the matter. He assumed office a couple of months ago and had not been briefed on what Uket came to the court with. As a Chief Executive, it is simply preposterous to be portrayed in bad light over a matter he had not addressed. The Commission is awaiting the ruling of His Lordship on the matter. The public has a right to be properly informed about the position of the EFCC and its leadership on this issue. There is no compromise of any sort anywhere and there won’t be at any time.”

The commission said the crux of the matter was his lawyer throwing in the towel after calling 10 witnesses in a case that had lasted almost four years. It added that it was the “mystery” unfolding in the case which PREMIUM TIMES should have dug deeper into.

Read EFCC’s rebuttal in full below:

Re: Malabu: Court Refuses to Suspend Trial for EFCC to Hunt Fresh Evidence

By Dele Oyewale

Premium Times’ story of January 14, 2024, on the application of EFCC’s counsel, Sylvanus Tahir, SAN, for an adjournment, in the Malabu case before Justice Idris Kutigi of the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, High Court, Abuja, is shocking. The story, which can best be described as jaundiced and shorn of the finesse of objective reporting, was slanted to portray the EFCC as a desperate Agency of government hunting for evidence in the trial of all the defendants implicated in the OPL 245 oil block awarded to Malabu Oil and Gas Limited in 1998.

The reporter, seeking ways and means of denigrating the Executive Chairman of the EFCC, Ola Olukoyede, insinuated that he directed the Commission’s counsel to declare the government’s interests in the case to secure an adjournment. An adjournment, in any matter, could be sought by a counsel if there are justifiable grounds for it. In this particular matter, Tahir only sought the adjournment for him to sufficiently address the court having been instructed to take over the case owing to some developments in the matter the EFCC found disconcerting. Besides, Premium Times had earlier reported that “EFCC Surrenders, says no evidence of wrongdoing against Adoke, others”, without digging deeper into the whys and wherefores of developments in the case.

The truth of the matter is that the prosecution counsel, Offem Uket, that submitted that the EFCC lacked sufficient evidence to successfully prosecute six of the seven defendants standing trial in the case, was on a frolic of his own and has since been queried by the Commission. How on earth would a counsel that had already presented 10 witnesses before the court in a matter that had lasted over four years, suddenly seek termination of the matter in what can be described as a judicial abortion? This is the crux of the matter and a situation that should ordinarily make Premium Times dig deeper into the ” mystery” unfolding in the case.

It is needful to state that the EFCC has not “surrendered” in any way concerning the Malabu case. The Executive Chairman never instructed Uket to throw in the towel in the matter. He assumed office a couple of months ago and had not been briefed on what Uket came to the court with. As a Chief Executive, it is simply preposterous to be portrayed in bad light over a matter he had not addressed. The Commission is awaiting the ruling of His Lordship on the matter. The public has a right to be properly informed about the position of the EFCC and its leadership on this issue. There is no compromise of any sort anywhere and there won’t be at any time.

For now, Premium Times should sheathe its sword and allow the court’s proceedings to run its full course.

Dele Oyewale, is the Head, Media & Publicity, EFCC.

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