Stop ‘witch-hunting’ PDP’s lawyer, Obla, prosecute Babachir Lawal for corruption – HURIWA dares EFCC

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The Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria, HURIWA, has urged the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to end to its politically-motivated persecution and “witch-hunt” of a top lawyer linked to some Peoples Democratic party, PDP, governors, Chief Godwin Obla (SAN).

HURIWA, a prominent civil rights advocacy group urged the anti-graft agencies to return to the path of professional prosecution of anti-graft matters irrespective of political party affiliations of such persons.

The right group also expressed concern that the anti-corruption agency is not diligently carrying on the prosecution of the erstwhile Secretary to the Government of the Federation Babachir Lawal a well known acolyte of President Muhammadu Buhari reportedly implicated in a multimillion contract scam connected to the internally displaced persons camps in the North East.

In a statement signed by its National Coordinator, Emmanuel Onwubiko National Media Affairs Director Miss Zainab Yusuf, HURIWA faulted what it termed suspicious testimony said to have been made by a government/EFCC’s witness who allegedly exonerated Lawal.

“How an EFCC witness has reportedly exonerated the accused person is suspicious if the reports that emanated from the court room is anything to go by.

“We are even beginning to suspect that the then Senator Shehu Sani who headed the investigative panel that probed Babachir Lawal may have run into the storm of the anti graft panel because of his role which led to the disgraceful exit of the then powerful SGF Babachir Lawal who still wields considerable influence in the political power circles of Abuja.”

HURIWA alleged to have stumbled on some facts that appear to be showing that the “prolonged prosecution of the top PDP’s Counsel Godwin Obla a Senior Advocate of Nigeria and a former prosecutor of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) is at best a witch-hunt based on his professional pathways interpreted by the powers that be at the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to favour the leading opposition political party in the Country.”

The statement reads: “The prosecution of the current NBA President Paul Usoro (SAN) is also alleged to be pure political persecution because of his links to the opposition party’s governor of Akwa Ibom State.

“We will soon send a detailed reports to the National Assembly; the office of the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the offices of the Chairmen of the EFCC and ICPC to call for an end to political persecution of selected Nigerian lawyers who are currently handling sensitive cases or have handled cases connected with the PEOPLE DEMOCRATIC PARTY (PDP). In the case of Chief Godwin Obla a former Prosecutor of the anti-graft commission, the Rights group expressed shock that he is even been prosecuted for winning a case for EFCC which even the hierarchy of the anti graft body had celebrated as a landmark case.

“We will be demanding that the National Assembly and the Nigerian President sanitize the EFCC so it is not continuously seen as the attack dog of the national ruling party-APC. The role of anti corruption drive is too sensitive to be directed in such ways that coyld be interpreted to be a witchhunt against opposition personalities in Nigeria for some political objectives. ”

HURIWA in the statement disclosed that from a document it obtained recently: “On 28 November 2016, Chief Godwin Obla (SAN), a former prosecutor with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), was arraigned before a Lagos High Court in Suit No: LD/3671C/16 alongside the Hon. Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, then a Judge of the Federal High Court, on the allegation that he bribed the latter with the sum of N5 million to secure the conviction of the Defendant in Charge No.:FHC/L/C/482C/10 between the Federal Republic of Nigeria v. Raymond Temisan Omatseye.

Interestingly, the case of FRN V Omatseye was a criminal prosecution in respect of which the EFCC itself had briefed Obla and provided the proof of evidence, witnesses and other information utilized by Obla in the course of the trial. This trial commenced in February 2011 before the Hon. Justice B.F.M. Nyako until 2013when Obla filed an amended Charge and the Defendant was consequently rearraigned before the Hon. Justice Ajumogobia. The entire trial spanned the course of 5 years i.e. between the first arraignment in 2011 and 20 May 2016 when the judgment convicting the Defendant for sundry breaches of the Public Procurement Act was delivered. In this 5 -year period, Obla appeared before the Court on at least 46 occasions along with junior Counsel on behalf on the EFCC. ”

HURIWA gathered that: “It is on record that Omatseye’s conviction was very significant in the fight against corruption and was widely celebrated as the first conviction ever secured by the EFCC for breach of contract approval thresholds under the Public Procurement Act. One factor which lends credence to this assertion was the wide celebration by the EFCC of this conviction/Judgment. For instance, the EFCC in its Press Release dated 20th May 2016 (which continues to appear on its website www.efccnigeria.org)had the following to say about the Judgment:

“After five years of grueling legal battle, justice is finally served as a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos today convicted a former Director General of the Nigeria Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Mr. Temisan Omatseye.

Justice Rita Ofili- Ajumogobia in a landmark ruling convicted the former DG on 25 of the 27-count charge bordering on alleged contract variation, bid rigging and awarding contract above his approval limit which violates the provisions of the Public Procurement Act, brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.”

“Again, on May 27 2016, the Acting Chairman of the EFCC, whilst speaking at the launch of the “Clean Hands Against Corruption Campaign” at the Eagle Square in Abuja alluded to the conviction of Raymond Omatseye as one of the “140 convictions the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has secured in six months.”

HURIWA therefore wondered that: “It is perhaps curious that the same EFCC which lauded the conviction of Raymond Omatseye at several fora, made a complete volte-face to allege that the conviction was secured as a result of “perversion of justice”, moresoas no indication has been given as to whatever motivation Obla might have had to pay a bribe to secure a conviction on a case investigated by the EFCC and for which the EFCC itself provided the witnesses and proof of evidence. By alleging that Obla attempted to “pervert the course of justice” in the case of FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA v. OMATSEYE, one wonders whether the EFCC was contending that the accused person in that case- who was investigated by the EFCC itself, ought not to have been tried at all, much less convicted and instead ought to have been discharged and acquitted.”

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