How non-appearance and not making legal representations in court compounded her case
By OMONIYI SALAUDEEN and ONYEDIKA AGBEDO
Former minister of petroleum resources, Mrs Diezani Alison-Madueke is arguably facing the greatest travail of her life with allegations of monumental corruption against her by the Federal Government rapidly debasing her reputation. But she appears to have given up rather than put up a fight, a sort of total surrender to fate in the face of imminent destruction. And week in, week out lately, the Federal Government has secured court judgments against her either ordering interim or permanent forfeiture of her ‘hard-earned savings and property’ said to be proceeds of corruption. In the last one month alone, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the government’s anti-graft agency, has got at least three of such judgments against her.
Just last Monday, Justice Abdulazeez Anka of the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos, ordered the permanent forfeiture of the sum of N7.6 billion suspected to belong to the former minister. Justice Anka gave the ruling sequel to an application filed by the EFCC seeking the final and permanent forfeiture of the said sum to the Federal Government.
The anti-graft agency had in its supporting affidavit averred that consequent upon the investigation carried out on the intelligence reports received by the commission, it discovered that the sum of N7.6 billion kept in the accounts of some banks were proceeds of unlawful activities.
The forfeited sum was allegedly laundered through former Group Managing Director, Crude Oil Marketing Division of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Gbenga Olu Komolafe; former Group Managing Director, Pipelines and Product Marketing Company (PPMC), Prince Haruna Momoh; and Group Managing Director of Nigerian Products Marketing Company (NPMC), Umar Farouk Ahmed, on behalf of Deziani.
Justice Chuka Obiozor of another Federal High Court, Lagos, had on August 7, this year, ordered the temporary forfeiture of the monies following an ex-parte application argued before him by the EFCC.
Also on Wednesday, August 22, a Federal High Court in Lagos had ordered that 56 buildings linked to Diezani and her associates be temporarily forfeited to the Federal Government. The buildings located in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Rivers States and valued at N3.320 billion, were alleged to be proceeds of corruption.
The court presided over by Justice AbdulAziz Anka gave the order while granting an ex-parte application filed and argued before the court by counsel to the EFCC, Mr. Anselm Ozioko.
The properties ordered to be temporarily forfeited to the Federal Government included 21 mixed housing units of eight numbers of four-bedroom penthouse apartments; six numbers of three-bedroom apartments; two numbers of three-bedroom apartments; and one number of a four-bedroom apartment, all en suite and located at 7 Thurnburn Street and 5 Raymond Street, Yaba, Lagos valued at N937 million.
Other properties included 16 numbers of four-bedroom terraces located at Heritage Court Estate, Omerelu Street, Diobu GRA, Port Harcourt, Rivers State valued at N928 million.
Also included in the property haul were 13 numbers of three-bedroom terraces, with one-room maid’s quarters, situated at Mabushi Gardens Estate, Plot 1205, Cadastral Zone B06, Mabushi, Abuja, valued at N650 million; and six flats of three bedrooms and one-room boy’s quarters, located at Plot 808 (135) Awolowo Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, valued at N805 million.
Diezani had also on Monday, August 7, this year, lost a $37.5 million Banana Island mansion to the Federal Government. A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos had ordered that the $37.5 million sky-scrapper on Banana Island, Lagos, belonging to her be finally forfeited to the Federal Government. The trial judge, Justice Chuka Obiozor, also ordered that the sums of $2,740,197.96 and N84,537,840.70 realised as rents on the property should equally be forfeited to the Federal Government. Justice Obiozor made the orders sequel to a motion on notice argued before him by the EFCC.
The anti-graft agency had on July 19, 2017, obtained a court order to temporarily seize the property located at Building 3, Block B, Bella Vista Plot 1, Zone N, Federal Government Layout, Banana Island Foreshore Estate, which is said to have 24 apartments, 18 flats and six penthouses.
As the judgments continued coming, the questions on many lips were: Where is Diezani? Where are her lawyers? Why is she just watching as the government keeps linking illicit funds and properties to her and seizing them through the courts? Would these judgments stand the test of time?
Although the former minister is known to be battling with ill health in the United Kingdom where she has been residing since the early days of the present administration, the fact that she has not made a legal representation in court amidst the allegations and forfeitures is already being interpreted as an admission of guilt and submission to government’s might by many observers. All that has come from her in the recent past was a statement where she denied ownership of $153.3 million recently forfeited to the Federal Government through an order of the Federal High Court, Lagos; and absolved herself of any wrong doing during her tenure as Minister of Petroleum Resources.
She said: “I am deeply disturbed and bewildered by recent media reports claiming that by virtue of an order of the Federal High Court, I have forfeited to the Federal Government the sum of $153.3 million, which I purportedly stole from the NNPC.
“Whilst the reasons for my being out of the country are public knowledge, the principle of fair hearing demands that I should have been notified of formal charges if truly there was a prima-facie evidence or indictment against my person linking me with the said issue, so as to ensure that I had adequate legal representation.
“This was never done. I wish to state that I cannot forfeit what was never mine. I do not know the basis on which the EFCC has chosen to say that I am the owner of these funds as no evidence was provided to me before the order was obtained and they have not, in fact, served me with the order or, any evidence since they obtained it. As of the time of my writing this rebuttal, the EFCC has still not furnished me or my lawyers with a copy of the order.”
Diezani further denied any involvement with the Malabu oil deal, saying it was not under the direct purview of the Petroleum Ministry when she was the minister.
“As Minister of Petroleum Resources, I did not participate in any activity relating to financial payments on the Malabu matter, other than those statutorily mandated to the minister of petroleum resources by the Petroleum Act. My role in this matter was a purely statutory one as required by law in the Petroleum Act,” she noted.
She added that, “it is therefore sad and distressing that in spite of all that I tried to do in the best interest of our nation, I continue to be faced with constant demonisation, unproven accusations and deeply personal insults.”
To many analysts, the press statement does not equate for a legal defence in any way and as such, they believe that the former minister should have sought redress in the courts if she felt her rights and reputation were being trampled upon. And until she does that, the “constant demonisation, unproven accusations and deeply personal insults” against her might continue till the government becomes satisfied that Nigeria’s stolen funds allegedly in her custody have been substantially retrieved.
The Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay, provides further insight into the issue in the interview below:
There is this public concern about the forfeiture of Diezani’s property by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). What is the propriety or otherwise of the seizure of her property without her appearance in court?
Who stops her from coming to court to defend herself? Who stops her from engaging a lawyer and briefing him to argue on her behalf? I think people who say that are either mentally retarded or simply corruption trying to fight back. Those who have such a monumental level of bad faith for this country, who hates Nigeria so much and would not even mind, if looters who stole billions upon billions of naira are allowed to get away with it are either themselves beneficiaries of corruption or they are mentally retarded because they don’t know what is good for themselves and for Nigeria. Why can’t Diezani engage a lawyer to represent her interest here? That is all she needs to do. Supply a lawyer with the facts; he will go to court and defend her property. We must disregard such people; they don’t mean well for the country.
What about the possibility of her turning around to challenge these seizures?
It is not possible. The only thing she can do is to go to the Court of Appeal. She can never challenge it. She had the opportunity to defend her property but she didn’t. We advertised for over two weeks, and she had the opportunity of engaging a lawyer to defend herself but she did not. What it means is that she cannot explain how she acquired the money because it is clearly Nigeria’s money. We all know it. Why are we pretending? Where will Diezani get 52 houses? What job does she do? Does NNPC money belong to her privately? Is NNPC not a Nigerian institution? Those who are pretending about it are beneficiaries of corruption. The best I can say of them is that they are mentally retarded. That is the most charitable thing I can say about it.
Isn’t it possible for the Federal Government to extradite her back to Nigeria to answers these charges?
Well, it is a possibility. But she has charges to answer also in England. For me, personally, I am not speaking for government because that is not the priority for now. I think it is urgent to recover all assets that are stolen first so that we can make use of what belongs to us, so that we can make use of what we have been deprived of. They have caused a huge level of unemployment for the youth; they have caused kidnapping and armed robbery with their reckless looting. It is the money they have stolen that has almost rendered this country bankrupt. So, let’s get our money back and restore the welfare and wellbeing of Nigerians. After we have done that or while we are doing that, we can go to prosecution side and prosecute them. For me, the priority is for us to recover assets that have been stolen.
You said she could go to the Appeal Court. What is she going to make out of it, if she chooses to do so?
She can appeal against the decision of High Court, if she is so minded. If she loses at the Court of Appeal, she can go to the Supreme Court.
Must she necessarily be present in Nigeria for her to do that?
No, she doesn’t necessarily have to be present. It is a civil case. She can hire a lawyer to defend her. She doesn’t have to appear in court.