A Northern civil society group, Northern Youths in Defence of Democracy and Justice, has challenged the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over its claims that money laundering charges preferred againat former petroleum minister, Deizani Alison Madueke and some senior bank executives have not been withdrawn.
In a statement issued on Sunday, signed on its behalf by Abba Yahaya Suleiman, the group maintained that EFCC’s position amounted to a distortion of facts as to what transpired in open court.
It accused the EFCC of attempting to mislead the public about its actions despite being an organisation funded by taxpayer funds and must be held accountable for it’s actions by Nigerians.
The statement said the EFCC on its own accord withdrew the charges, which were filed in 2018 and filed an amended charge which retained only the name of Mr. Lawal contrary to it’s claims.
Below is the full statement:
PRESS STATEMENT: EFCC’S REFUTAL OF ALLEGED WITHDRAWAL OF CASE AGAINST DIEZANI, OTHERS, LAUGHABLE
We have keenly followed the developments in various criminal charges filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against prominent Nigerians in the last four years including the charge of money laundering maintained by the commission against former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison Madueke and four others.
The four others named in this particular charge are former Executive Director of First Bank, Mr. Dauda Lawal, the Managing Director of Fidelity Bank, Nnamdi Okonkwo, the former Executive Director of Sterling Bank, Lanre Adesanya and the former Group Executive Director of NNPC, Stanley Lawson.
We are aware that this case has lingered since 2016 when Mr. Lawal was first arrested and detained by the EFCC for allegedly facilitating the transfer of funds on behalf of the ex-minister, now at large, which he collected from Nnamdi Okonkwo, Managing Director of Fidelity Bank and handed over to Lanre Adesanya, former Executive Director, Sterling Bank through a normal banking operation.
We are also aware that the funds were at all times handled in the normal course of banking operations and transferred within the two banks.
Although EFCC has filed a 14-count charge against the former Minister, Diezani Madueke and the four others since 2018, they are yet to be arraigned in court.
We recall that at the last sitting of the court and without any prompting from defence counsel, the EFCC, on its own, withdrew charges against all the principal accused persons and filed amended charges against only Mr. Lawal. The details of the proceedings which held on November 5 leading to the withdrawal of the original charge against Diezani Madueke and four others and the filing of a four-count amended charge against Dauda Lawal is already a public knowledge by virtue of media reports last month.
But we were shocked to read, last week, in the media, a rebuttal from the EFCC hours after fresh reports on the withdrawal of the charge against Diezani and others hit the public space, denying that at no time was the charge withdrawn against Diezani and other defendants in the case but that it merely took a prosecutorial decision to split the charge.
Following the controversy trailing the present status of the case in question, we are constrained to issue this public statement as patriotic Nigerians committed to the Nigerian project, who believe that institutions like the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, which are funded by taxpayers and are supposed to be answerable to Nigerian citizens, need to be transparent and honest about their actions.
From our findings, we make bold to say that the rebuttal by the EFCC is a deliberate effort to distort the facts and mislead Nigerians as to the event that happened in open court and which was widely reported by several news media.
For instance, in the rebuttal, the EFCC laboured to explain that it never withdrew charges against all the accused persons but that it took a prosecutorial decision to split the charges. Whereas, the truth is that the EFCC withdrew the charge containing all the original names of the defendants and filed an amended charge retaining only the name of Dauda Lawal.
It is elementary that you cannot file an amended charge in court without withdrawing the old charge. It is also elementary that as soon as the court is seized of the amended charge, the old charge becomes non-existent in the face of the law. If EFCC still claims that the charges against Diezani, Okonkwo, Lawson, Adesanya and Mr. Otti are still in place, we ask them to show us the charge sheet.
Again, in its statement, the EFCC claimed that its decision to withdraw against all the other co-accused and retain only Mr. Lawal on the amended charge sheet, was a prosecutorial decision taken in open court, following a spate of adjournments occasioned by non-appearance of one or two of the defendants each time the matter came up which prevented arraignment of the defendants more than one year after the case was listed.
However, we wish to note that contrary to the Agency’s claim, all the accused persons including the discharged persons were in Court on the last two Court dates of 24th May, 2019 and 5th November, 2019, yet no pleas were taken from them, rather, the agency, suo moto, withdraw the charge and substituted it with an amended charge against Lawal.
From the foregoing, we state that the claim by the EFCC that in more than four occasions that the matter was called for arraignment, it was either Lanre Adesanya was sick, bedridden in a London Hospital or Nnamdi Okonkwo was hypertensive and on admission or Stanley Lawson had had domestic accident and could not appear in court is a story for new-born babies.
From all indications, we make bold to say that the history and all developments in this case from inception to date, have shown that EFCC ab initio never had the intention to charge any of the discharged accused persons to Court, rather its sole intention from the start was to harass Mr. Dauda Lawal, bring his name into disrepute and seize his hard earned assets from over 30 years work in the public and private sector (reaching the rank of Executive Director, in Nigeria’s largest bank) for reasons best known to them.
We are therefore demanding that EFCC should retrace its steps and go back to the spirit of the EFCC (Establishment) Act, where the organization was envisaged to be one that will be run devoid of sentiments and personal considerations in fighting financial crime. It is our humble advice that witch-hunting, selective prosecution, cherry picking accused persons and preferential treatment of suspects, will only further confirm the widely held view that EFCC has derailed from its initial mandate.
As for Mr. Dauda Lawal, he is a model and mentor for Northern youths and Nigerian youths at large and we are confident that he is innocent of the charges brought against him and that in no time he will be vindicated. For the general public, we wish to state that we will continue to monitor developments in this case and put out the correct information at all times. May God continue to bless Nigeria.
Abba Yahaya Suleiman
For: Northern Youths in Defence of Democracy and Justice