Trial of the erstwhile Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsday Orubebe over allegation that he falsely declared his assets in 2007, kicked off on a dramatic note on Thursday, as his lawyer, Mr. Larry Selekeowei, SAN, exchanged hot words with the Justice Danladi Umar-led panel of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT.
The clash followed moves by the Director of Public Prosecution, DPP, Mr. Mohammed Diri, to tender into evidence, the Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) and the Right of Occupancy (R of O), of Plot No. 2057 Asokoro District Abuja, which Orubebe was said to have failed to declare as his property.
The DPP had through the star witness the federal government brought to testify against the former Minister, Mr. Samuel Madojemu, who is an investigative officer at the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, attempted to tender the documents into evidence.
Meanwhile, the war-of-words ensued at a point Orubebe’s lawyer was adducing reasons why the documents and an accompanying letter from the Federal Capital Territory Department of Land Administration, should not be admitted into evidence. Mid way into his submission, one of the Judges on the CCT panel, Mr. Agwaza Atedze, interjected and asked the defence lawyer to streamline his argument to specific contents of the document before the tribunal.
The remark infuriated Mr. Selekeowei, SAN, who “rudely” reprimanded the Judge for unduly interfering with his submission.
“Why are you interjecting into my submission like this? I am making a point, you have not even allowed me to land! You are interfering with this proceeding and it is wrong!
“You are the Judge, you should allow me to make my submission while you rule. Allow me do my work, yours is to be neutral. Why are you doing this?”, Selekeowei bellowed.
Effort by Chairman of the CCT panel, Justice Umar to pacify Orubebe’s lawyer proved abortive as he kept shouting
“I am making a submission and someone is interfering and you expect me to keep quite, that cannot happen!”
Irked by conduct of the defence lawyer, Justice Umar maintained that he must tender an open apology for his verbal attack on the bench.
“Are you not sitting before us. Why are you being rude to us? You must apologise. When there is an interjection you are not expected to rudely shout at a Judge the way you are doing.
“You are a member of the silk, you must respect the bench. You are expected to speak humbly and with humility to the bench no matter what. This is not a place to fight, it is a place to settle dispute in an amicable way”,
Justice Umar fumed. “I apologise, though I still insist that it was wrong for anyone to interject like that”, Selekeowei stated. J
ustice Atedze who was glaring at him from his vintage point on the bench, simply said, “Larry, all I will tell you is to calm down”.
Meantime, in his evidence-in-chief, the PW-1, narrated how the CCB uncovered that the said plot belongs to the former Minister. He said: “My Lord, I know the defendant because be came to make his assets declaration to the Bureau by virtue of his position as a public officer and as a Minister of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“I was instructed to invite him to the Bureau headquarters for the purpose of obtaining his statement on the allegations and intelligence reports that was being handled by the Bureau concerning him.
“I invited him but he promised to respond by sending his legal representative. He also promised that he may decide to come in person. However, he did not come.
”My lord he was issued with Form CCB-1, which is the standard form for assets declaration. He made the declarations between 2007 to 2011, which is the period under investigation. The CCB issued the defendant forms five times. For those five times he made his assets declaration forms review.
”After we received the forms, we examined them as part of our investigation procedure, to ascertain if there was over declaration or under declaration.
”We also conducted intelligence assessment on the declaration made by the defendant. My lord we discovered that there were some other plots or properties that were allegedly traced to the defendant, Elder Godwill Orubebe.
“We thereafter decided to conduct record examination by writing a letter to the Federal Capital Territory Department of Land Administration. In their response, which was in writing, they stated that Plot No. 2057 Asokoro District Abuja, for which a C of O was issued on April 10, 2011, belongs to the defendant.
”We thereafter decided to compare the information arising from the response from the FCT land administration department with the assets the defendant declared to the Bureau between 2007 to 2011, and discovered that Plot No 2057 Asokoro District, belonging to the defendant, was not declared, even as at May 29, 2011 when he left office.
“We received the Certified True Copy of the C of O and R of O that was issued to the defendant in respect of the plot. “As well as the Letter of Authority issued to one Engineer Rodney, by the defendant, authorising the collection of the C of O and R of O from the FCT department of land administration.
“The C of O and R of O was signed by one Funke Audu. It also contains the address of the defendant which is No 2 Drive, Ministers Quarters Mabushi Abuja”, the witness added.
Meanwhile, Orubebe, through his lawyer, vehemently opposed the admissibility of the documents which he said was obtained in gross violation of section 83(3) of the Evidence Act.
The defence counsel contended that the documents were procured while the charge was pending before the tribunal. ”The letter is dated February 18, 2016, whereas this suit commenced on October 8, 2015″, Selekeowei argued.
Citing plethora of authorities, the defence lawyer stressed that section 83(3) of the Evidence Act prohibits the admissibility of documents that were procured from an interested party to a pending suit.
He noted that Mrs. Funke Audu who signed the document identified herself as an Assistant Chief State Counsel, “that clearly made her an interested party”.
“The party in this case is Federal Republic of Nigeria, which is the employer of the Assistant State Counsel, and who by her designation is necessarily under the Attorney General of the Federation, who is the Chief Legal Officer of the federation.
”Therefore this letter accompanying these documents are inadmissible. They are dead on arrival”, Orubebe’s lawyer added.
The DPP however urged the tribunal to admit the documents, saying the Letter of Authority was executed by the defendant about five years before the charge was filed.
The prosecution also noted that the C of O was signed May 26, 2011, by former FCT Minister, Senator Bala Mohammed, adding that the R of O is dated April 10, 2011.
“These documents cannot be said to have been made during the pendency of this case”, he submitted. In a short ruling, the tribunal overruled the defence lawyer and admitted the documents into evidence, even as it adjourned further hearing on the matter till April 18.
The tribunal earlier admitted into evidence, five Forms CCB-1, which contained the list of assets the ex-Minister declared before the Bureau. Orubebe is facing an amended one-count charge the federal government preferred against him.
He was said to have committed an offence contrary to section 15 of Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Cap. 15 laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2014, and punishable under section 23(2) of the same Act.
The prosecution told the tribunal that FG has lined up three witnesses that will testify in the matter. FG had at the last adjourned day, dropped N70million bribery allegation it levelled against Orubebe in the initial four-count charge it lodged before the tribunal.
It alleged in the charge that was struck-out, that Orubebe collected the bribe from one Pastor (Dr.) Jonathan Alota, the owner of a company, Chemtronics Nigeria Limited.
The firm was said to have benefited from contracts that were awarded by the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, whilst Orubebe held sway as Minister.
FG alleged that the defendant received bribe of N50m in 2012 and another N20m in 2013, an offence contrary to section 10 of the CCB & Tribunal Act, 2004, and punishable under Section 23 (2) of the same law.Vanguard