Why court freed Nigerian judge accused of corruption

A High Court of the Federal Capital Territory on Wednesday discharged a judge of the Federal High Court in Abuja of all 18-count charges of fraud brought against him, his wife and a senior lawyer.

The judge, Adeniyi Ademola, and his wife, Olabowale, as well as Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Joe Agi, were accused of fraudulent diversion of huge sums, ranging from local and foreign currencies, possession of firearms and involvement in illegal collection of gratification.

The defendants, particularly the first and second defendant, Mr. Ademola and his wife, a former Head of Service in Lagos State, were alleged to have abused their offices by conspiring to and consequently collecting gratification, in negation of their constitutional duties as public officers.

They had prayed the court to determine that they had no queries to answer, after the prosecution closed its case at the last adjourned date.

Delivering the judgement on the application for ‘no case submission’, Justice Jude Okeke who presided over the matter said the prosecution failed to prove its allegation before the court with facts, hence the court would not rely on speculations.

The judge said his observation of the matter proves that the case was built on “high level suspicion and speculation” fuelled by the very important fight against corruption.

Mr. Okeke said the allegation of collecting gratification, as made by the prosecution should have indicated clearly that the alleged gratification was corruptly collected and that the reasons for such corrupt transfers were related to the alleged offence.

Regarding the alleged transfer of N10 million for example, between the first and third defendants, Mr. Okeke said the prosecution failed to show clearly the official function of Mr. Ademola, in respect of which the N10 million was illegally offered as gratification.

He added that the prosecution was duty bound to state clearly the ingredients of offences alleged against the defendant. He said the failure of the prosecution to do so, renders unnecessary the requirement of a defence by the accused.

Mr. Okeke further said the prosecution, having alleged that the sum of N30 million was given as gratification to Mr. Ademola ‘spoke from both sides of the mouth’ when in another breath the prosecution, through its witnesses, said they do not know why the said sum was offered to the defendant.

Regarding the allegation of gratification through the collection of a car which was said to have been transferred through Mr. Ademola’s son, Mr. Okeke said the witness who had spoken in court about the purchase of the said car ‘did not in the remotest way’ indicate that Mr. Ademola’s son, an adult, was acting on behalf of his father.

On the allegation of embezzling huge sums of foreign and local currencies, Mr. Okeke said the witness brought to court by the prosecution to speak regarding the matter had agreed that judges were entitled to estacodes which were usually given in foreign currencies; particularly in U.S. dollars.

He said the witness also told the court that the said currencies could be further transferred into other foreign currencies, based on the particular location, where a judge intends to travel.

“The prosecution witness derailed, rather than supported the allegation”, said Mr. Okeke.

Concerning the alleged discovery of N85 and N90 million, respectively transferred by Mr. Ademola to a company, Danpaca and sons, for the purchase of a property, the judge said the witness brought to court by the same prosecution had testified to the fact that a sum of $520, 000 was found in one of Mr. Ademola’s account.

He added that according to the testimony of the witness, the foreign currency was part of proceeds from the sale of properties belonging to the parents of the judge which were shared among himself and his siblings.

Mr. Okeke said the first defendant had stated that his legitimate income did not only include his official earnings as a judge, but his inheritance, from a grandfather who was once a Chief Justice of Nigeria and a father who had risen to the height of a Justice of the Appeal Court.

“There is nothing that prevents the first defendant from benefiting from the inheritance of his father,” said Mr. Okeke who added that; “The fact that judges are expected to live humbly does not mean that every judge is church mouse”, that cannot afford to live comfortably.

On the allegation of attempting to collect N25 million as gratification from a defendant, Sani Teidi, while presiding over his case, Mr. Okeke said the witness who had testified in court, “made the allegation hopeless” by failing to show any direct evidence that Kingsley, O. through whom the ‘bribe’ was intended to have been collected, was actually acting on behalf of the first defendant.

“It is the duty of the prosecution to prove that the first defendant ‘and no one else’ attempted to collect the alleged N25 million, not an agent.

“The calls must be shown to have been made by the first defendant,” the judge added, stressing that no link was also created between Mr. Kingsley O. and the first defendant.

Also speaking about the allegation of illegal possession of firearms, Mr. Okeke said section (3) of the Robbery and Firearms Special Provision Act “limits the offence to possession of firearms contrary to the provisions of the act”.

Mr. Okeke said the decision of the prosecution to add the phrase; “Without valid licence in the charge; makes it inconsistent with the provision of the said act”.

Mr. Okeke called on security agencies and the law enforcement officers to ensure proper investigation of matters before proceeding to court, stressing that the court of law cannot rely on mere speculations to condemn any defendant.

Mr. Ademola was one of the judges whose homes were raided last October by the State Security Service, SSS.  His case is the first to be ruled upon after he asked for expeditious trial.

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