“I have since found out that public service is boring, lethargic, dull, retrogressive and pathogically corrupt.”
-Chief Okoi Obono Obla, Special Assistant, Prosecution to President Buhari.
Chief Okoi Obono Obla is one man I regard till today as the greatest contemporary activist from Cross River state.
He is one of the pillars behind the success of CrossRiverWatch and I mean it.
Before getting into government, he is one of the few persons we could call at any time of the day or night and be sure that he will take his call, hear your worries and follow up with concrete action.
He will use his hard earned money to drag whoever was involved to court and prosecute pro bono.
That was more typical of lawyers in the South West, where I have spent a substantial part of my life and I can’t immediately think of any other lawyer who impressed me that much in our state.
Since his appointment as the Special Assistant to President Buhari on Prosecution, attached to the Ministry of Justice, there is no doubt that the EFCC has recovered several billions in cash and assets.
I also read a post by Ifere Paul, recently where he chronicled 9 names from Cross River state, whose appointments into federal boards, commissions, governing boards, etc were influenced by Chief Obla.
I lift my two thumbs to congratulate him for such commendable feat.
But I must also be quick to point out that his primary role of prosecution seem to be suffering numerous and embarrassing setbacks with the string of high profile corruption cases that the FG has been losing under his watch.
A cross section of experts have posited that these loses are not necessarily occasioned by conspiracy but by sloopy prosecution and sheer unseriousness of prosecutors.
Several factors have been adduced by experts as being responsible for the loss of the cases, among which is the lack of water-tight evidence arising from poor investigations.
Experts have blamed the trend on lack of thorough investigation, diligent prosecution and committed judiciary as primary reasons for the loss of some of the cases.
Activist-lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), believes some of the cases were lost due to official negligence and lack of inter-agency cooperation.
To him, if the anti-graft and security agencies collaborated well, they would help one another with the needed evidence to successfully prosecute cases.
“Having reviewed the circumstances under which the corruption cases were lost by the Federal Government, I can say, without any fear of contradiction, that there is no basis for blaming the judiciary. It is also not a case of corruption fighting back.
“As far as I am concerned, the cases were lost due to official negligence and lack of inter-agency cooperation by the Federal Ministry of Justice, the anti-graft agencies and the Department of State Servicea (DSS)” , Falana said.
One of the major high profile cases that the government lost recently is that involving Justice Adeniyi Ademola of the Federal High Court, his wife Olubowale and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mr. Joe Agi, who incidentally is a Cross Riverian.
On April 5, a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory in Maitama, Abuja, dismissed all the 18 counts brought against them, including gratification charges.
Justice Jude Okeke discharged and acquitted the three defendants in a ruling, upholding their no-case submissions.
The prosecution had accused Justice Ademola of receiving, through his wife, gratification running into N30 million from Agi in April 2015.
Justice Ademola also allegedly received through his son, Ademide, a BMW car with a market value of N8.5 million from Agi in January 2015.
Justice Okeke held that the prosecution failed to make out a prima facie case against the defendants, in spite of calling 19 witnesses and tendering a load of exhibits marked A to ZZZ.
Also worried by the increasing loss of corruption cases, a civil society coalition, One Voice, said besides inter-agency rivalry, deficiencies in prosecution was a contributory factor.
One Voice is a coalition of civil rights organisations, including the Human Rights Law Service (HURILAWS), the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), the Centre for Constitutional Governance (CCG), the Access to Justice (A2J), the Independent Advocacy Project (IAP), the Network on Police Reform in Nigeria (NOPRIN), among others.
Also, the National Judicial Council (NJC) while reacting to comments that trailed the recall of some judges accused of corruption said, contrary to comments by the Special Assistant to the President on Prosecution, Okoi Obono-Obla; Prosecution was rather to blame.
The Council explained that the Registry of the High Court of the FCT, Abuja informed its Department of Information that the Office of the Attorney-General of the Federation filed two notices of appeal in the court against Justice Adeniyi Ademola, his wife, Olabowale Ademola and Mr Joe Agi.
The Council noted that the second one was filed on June 6, 2017, two days after it issued the press release, with additional grounds of appeal against only Justice Ademola.
In a press statement by its Director of Information, Soji Oye, the NJC said: “The total number of 45 days allowed for compilation of record in all circumstances expired on May 7, 2017, for the Registrar of the Lower Court and May 22, 2017, for the Appellant.”
Analysts further hold that corruption cases will be determined more quickly where prosecutors limit themselves to a few cases and handle them efficiently.
To them, EFCC needs more strong hands to support Oyedepo, their in house prosecutor, who many believe is “overworked”.
Sometimes some high-profile cases have been stalled due to Oyedepo’s inability to handle all them due to other commitments.
On March 30, Oyedepo’s absence stalled the trial of a Federal High Court judge, Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia and a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Godwin Obla, at the Lagos High Court, Ikeja.
Oyedepo was said to be simultaneously handling another case at the Court of Appeal, Lagos Division.
Obla’s counsel, Ifedayo Adedipe (SAN), expressed disappointment at the absence of the EFCC prosecutor, noting that Oyedepo failed to serve the defence with any letter explaining his absence.
On May 10, Oyedepo’s absence stalled the trial of former Senior Special Assistant to ex-President Gooluck Jonathan on Domestic Affairs, Waripamo-Owei Dudafa and others.
Oyedepo had written a letter seeking for an adjournment.
The letter stated that the prosecutor was on a national assignment outside the court’s jurisdiction.
Dudafa’s counsel, Mr. Gboyega Oyewole, said it was an “unfortunate situation” for the defendants.
Another defence counsel, Mr. Ige Asemudara, said he was surprised that the prosecutor would not be in court because of a “national assignment” which was not well explained.
On May 16, the trial of Chief Rickey Tarfa, SAN, was stalled due to Oyedepo’s absence.
Tarfa is standing trial on a 27-count charge of, among others, age falsification and offering of gratification to a public officer, pressed against him by the anti-graft agency.
Defence counsel Abiodun Owonikoko (SAN), said: “I am taken aback by the prosecution’s absence. No letter was given to the defence to explain their absence.
“I can confirm that yesterday, I was in court with Mr Oyedepo for another matter and there was nothing to indicate that he would not be in court. Since that time, I have been to Kaduna and back. It is not fair on the defendant.”
Other high profile cases being handled by Oyedepo are those of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s wife, Dame Patience, former Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Director-General, Dr. Patrick Akpobolokemi and former Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA) Managing Director/Chief Executive Ibrahim Abdulsalam.
Others are: former Chief of Air Staff (CAS), Air Marshal Adesola Amosu (rtd), Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Labour & Productivity, Dr. Illoh Clement, Independent National Electoral Electoral Commission (INEC) staff, Christian Nwosu and Tijani Bashir, among others.
Lawyers have called for the strengthening of the prosecuting arms of anti-graft agencies if the war against corruption must be won.
A SAN, Dr. Wale Babalakin, said prosecutors can only win well-investigated cases.
He said: “Prosecution of criminal cases should only take place after a very thorough investigation and review of the evidence by very seasoned legal practitioners. Poor prosecution of cases has considerable negative effect on the legal system.
“It gives an impression that there is an undisclosed agenda in the institution of criminal cases. It does not appear that the focus is to achieve conviction in accordance with law.
“The idea that the prosecution would seek to adjourn the trial of criminal cases because it requires more time to adduce or compile evidence must be very strange to those who are familiar with the operation of the common law in prosecution of criminal cases.”
A former United Nations (UN) International Criminal prosecutor, Charles Adeogun-Phillips, reiterated the fact that proper investigation and commitment are key to winning cases.
“As a prosecutor, you must always remember that your case is only as good as your evidence. And you need proper investigations in order to generate sound evidence capable of assisting you in discharging the burden of proof which, only you, as a prosecutor, must carry.
“As a prosecutor or an investigator, you must also understand that you cannot build cases based on your emotions.
Now, my point is that, Chief Obla is failing in his primary duty to filter the expert opinions with a view to aggregating the suggestion for better results.
Following these embarrassing loses, one would expect that the very respected Chief will be more busy and sweating it out in the books looking for how to give Nigerians a reason to be happy that the corrupt goons we voted out are brought to book in the law courts.
But Chief Obla seem to be more interested in numerous TV interviews and facebook posts that add little or no value to what happens in court.
Methinks it is time for my venerable Chief to spend more time in the books than facebook and TV interviews.
That way, I believe sincerely that we will get something more tangible to celebrate than just his oratory prowess on TV and facebook.
Or could it be that the boring, lethargic, dull, retrogressive and pathologically corrupt nature of public service has caught up with him?
I ask this question with all sense of respect to his person and integrity as a forthright activist.
I also wish him a successful time in office.
God bless Nigeria.
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