The Metamorphosis, delays of corruption case against Bafarawa
By Abdallah el-Kurebe
Former Sokoto state governor, Attahiru Dalhatu Bafarawa has, since he left office on May 29, 2007 been haunted by Nigeria’s anti-corruption body, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for alleged corruption. Questions are asked as to whether politics is playing some roles, especially that charges against some of the accused persons with whom he was arraigned before the court, have been dropped. What are the intricacies involved?
The genesis of the case was Bafarawa’s revelation, rightly or wrongly, that he left N11.8 billion in the coffers of the state government, a claim that Aliyu Magatakarda Wamakko, his successor, refuted on assumption of in 2007.
When he was leaving office, Bafarawa was reported to have written to EFCC to the effect that the accounts of Sokoto State Government be frozen by the anti-graft Commission. While denials and counter denials by Bafarawa and Wamakko continued on the pages of newspapers, Bafarawa was arrested allegedly from a meeting venue at Sheraton Hotel and charged to the Federal High Court (FHC), Abuja. His international passport was seized by the EFCC. The FHC ordered the Commission to present the charges against Bafarawa as well as return his International passport.
Meanwhile, Sokoto State Government set up Committees to verify the contracts, projects and liabilities of the Sokoto State and local governments. After that, the State Government set up a Judicial Commission of Inquiry into the activities of Sokoto State Pilgrims Welfare Agency, the State and Local Government Joint Account and the Ministry of Water Resources. The Commission indicted Bafarawa, the former Secretary to the State Government (Alhaji Muhammadu Maigari Dingyadi), former Chairman of Pilgrims Welfare Agency (Alhaji Ummarun Kwabo), Alhaji Isa Sadiq Achida, former Commissioner for Water Resources (Alhaji Attahiru Yusuf Yabo) and 42 others.
The accused persons filed a Motion on Notice on 26th January 2009 to enforce their Fundamental Rights. The application was dismissed by the High Court on 5th May 2009 on the basis of which they appealed to the Court of Appeal in Sokoto.
Grounds of Appeal
They asked the Appeal Court to determine, “whether the sittings of the Judiciary Commission of Inquiry, acting on the reports of the sub-committees who testified before it without the appellants having the chance of cross-examining the said witnesses, was not in breach of the appellants’ constitutionally guaranteed rights to fair hearing.” The Appeal Court upheld the Trial court’s dismissal of appellants’ application.
As to “whether it was proper or legally right for the Judicial Commission of Inquiry to have indicted the Appellants not being a court of law vested with such powers,” the Appeal Court also agreed with the submission of the Attorney General that “the Governor of Sokoto State is empowered under Section 2(1) of the Commission of Inquiry Law Cap 33 Laws of Sokoto State, to set up a Commission of Inquiry for the purpose of looking into the conduct of any officer in the state public service or management of any department of the public service or local institution and appoint Commissioners for that purpose.”
“Whether the learned trial judge was right to have declared or failed to determine the Applicants’ application for fundamental rights on its merits, having the material facts before him to do so,” again, the Appeal Court concluded that “to say that the Trial Judge did not consider and decide the Motion on Notice on its merit, would be erroneous. The result is that this appeal lacks merit in toto and it is therefore dismissed.”
Forty-seven count charges
On the case with the EFCC, leave was granted by the Sokoto State High Court on 16/12/09 for the prosecution to prefer a 47 count charge against the Appellant as the 6th of 16 Accused persons with respect to specified alleged offences bordering on criminal breach of trust and conspiracy in violation of insert sections of the Panel Code Act of Northern Nigeria. Out of the 16 accused persons, the nine in court were brought into court from the custody of the EFCC, which had arrested and detained them shortly before the charge was filed.
On December 16, 2009, in suit No. SS/33C/2009 at the High Court, the Federal Government of Nigeria applied and the court granted her leave to prefer charges against Alhaji Attahiru Dalhatu Bafarawa and 14 others, having read “the charges and other supporting documents.”
One of the Defence Counsels, Barrister Sulaiman Usman said that charges were served on the accused persons; the 47 count charges preferred against Bafarawa and 14 others were read out to the accused persons; they all pleaded not guilty and their pleas taken and remanded in custody on the same day. “On that same 16th of December, 2009 the nine Accused persons were served with the charge in Court and their plea were taken after which they were remanded in custody whilst, the matter was adjourned to 21st December 2009.”
From available records of proceedings, at the trial court’s resumed sitting on 21st December 2009, the nine accused persons who were present before the court had their applications for bail moved by their various counsel. The applications were eventually granted on the 23rd December, 2009. In the course of proceedings on 21st December, 2009 however, the prosecution counsel applied for bench warrants to be issued against the accused who were absent from court, for their absence. This was regardless of whether the absentee accused persons were confirmed to have been served with the charge or were aware of the charge filed against them.
Bafarawa feels that the state government was just using the anti graft Commission to humiliate him. He saidthat Wamakko could not have concluded that he did not leave anything in the treasury. “This is a person who was just being sworn in to the Office of the Governor. He had not seen the records when he made that conclusion.” He claims that he wrote to the EFCC a day after the governor’s speech giving the breakdown of the N11.8 billion in the accounts of the state government. In fact, he wanted the EFCC to frozen the accounts of the state government and investigate the truth about his claim.
The Commission did not investigate the matter as immediate as it was reported until after one year when the Election Tribunal nullified the governorship election of Wamakko. Bafarawa was invited to EFCC and his International passport, seized. He took the Commission to the Federal High Court (FHC), Abuja and the court ordered EFCC to prefer the charges. But the charges were not forth coming.
Another year ran by and Bafarawa began political alignment with Buhari, Atiku, Tinubu, etc and, during a meeting at Sheraton Hotel, he was picked by the EFCC and kept for a week and later brought to Sokoto. “They kept me for one good week without asking me to write any statement. Remember, our case was still at the FHC for EFCC to bring the charges against me. What I heard later was we should come to Sokoto. Most of the EFCC cases are in the FHCs.”
At Sokoto High Court, his charges were read out to him and he was remanded in custody for a week. He claims that he was not allowed access to his lawyer. And, more worrisome, according to Bafarawa is that eighteen of them had been arrested but charges on most of those charged along with him had been dropped. Only about five of us remain. “Their charges were dropped because they joined the PDP,” he alleged.
But lawyer to EFCC, Barrister Jacob Ochidi explained that the delay was because of the tactics employed by some of the accused persons, notably Chief Mike Umeh. “When they were arraigned before the court, Chief Umeh was one of the accused persons that was not in court on the day of the arraignment. And because of his absence, the Trial Judge ordered and issued a Bench Warrant for his arrest.
“Now his lawyers felt aggrieved by that decision of the Trial court and filed an appeal at the Court of Appeal to quash that order of the trial court. At the same time, they filed a motion before the court of appeal to stay the entire proceedings pending when that appeal is heard by the court of appeal.
“Now, these applications they filed before the court of appeal stalled the trial for almost two years. Nothing was done until eventually the court of appeal delivered its ruling upholding the procedure adopted by the trial court. In other words, the appeal was dismissed. It was sequel to the dismissal of that appeal that we came back to the High Court to start the trial. That caused a little delay in the case otherwise from the side of the prosecution we have done everything possible to accelerate the trial.
“We have 28 witnesses but you know in a trial like this, the prosecution has discretion to abandon any witness at any point in time. It is not compulsory that the whole lot of the witnesses we have listed would be called. So far, two witnesses have testified in the case. The second witness is under cross-examination,” Ochidi further said.
On why charges against some of the accused persons were dropped, Ochidi said: “In a trial, the prosecution at any stage has the discretion to decide whether to proceed against any particular accused person. And in this particular case, there were some accused persons the prosecution withdrew for the purpose of using them as prosecution witnesses. So, the purport is to use them as prosecution witnesses because without them, the rare evidence that would used to convict certain accused persons would be lacking. This is allowed in criminal trials.
Ochidi responded to public out-cry on the withdrawal of some accused persons from the case. “In addition, there were some accused persons that a noli prosecu was entered by the Attorney General. This is a normal practice in criminal proceedings and it is a power vested on the Attorney General by the Constitution. No court of law can question the authority of the Attorney General to use that power no matter what people think about it; no matter the impression the public may have. Not only that, even the court of law cannot enquire into the reason why the Attorney General exercised that power,” Ochidi emphasized.
Though it is a case of corruption against former governor Bafarawa, observers also see some elements of corruption in the way that the case is handled. Corruption has many faces.