A couple of days ago, prosecuting counsel in the Justice Sylvester Ngwuta N500m money laundering case, Charles Adeogun-Phillips, announced his withdrawal from the case
According to PUNCH, some sources said that Adeogun-Phillips dropped the case because the federal government dropped charges earlier filed against the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Ahmed Saleh, and two other officials of the apex court.
The charges withdrawn by the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation against Saleh, Muhammed Abdulrahman Sharif and Rilwanu Lawal involved alleged diversion of N2.2bn belonging to the apex court.
The three Supreme Court officials were also accused of receiving gratifications totalling N74.4m from private contractors who were providing services to the Supreme Court between 2009 and 2016.
Adeogun-Phillips was said to have left the case in protest against the federal government’s decision.
“The claim that they dropped the charges so that he could be used as witness in Ngwuta’s trial is just a facade,” a source familiar with the matter was quoted as saying.
However, in a statement on Sunday in Abuja, Salisu Isah, Special Adviser on Media to the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN), said that the National Prosecution Coordination Committee (NPCC) sacked Adeogun-Philips for unprofessional conduct.
Isah, who is also Head of Communication and Public Affairs, NPCC, said that Adeogun-Philips’ sack was conveyed to him in a letter.
He said that the NPCC that engaged the services of Adeogun-Philips, withdrew the fiat issued to him to prosecute the case over non disclosure of conflict of interest and for other sundry reasons.
He said that the impression given by Adeogun-Philips suggesting that he withdrew from the case on his own volition was not true.
“The report that he left in protest due to last week Tuesday’s dropping of charges earlier instituted against the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Ahmed Gambo Saleh and two other officials of the apex court which he is also handling cannot be relied upon.
The insinuation that the attorney-general withdrew the case against the three Supreme Court officials because they are Northerners is also unwarranted.
The dropping of the suit was done in good faith and in the context of plea bargaining to achieve greater goals in the prosecution of the other bigger cases that are ongoing against Justice Sylvester Ngwuta among others,” Isah said.
According to Isah, it is wicked and childish for anyone to allude undue colouration to an action taken in national interest and reduce it to a North/South thing with a view to confuse the discerning public.
“This is not the first time such process will be entered into in law, especially so as the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 allows plea bargaining in line with national interest.
And as a way of precedence, there was a time in the history of this nation that the allegations against Sgt. Rogers, who was accused of killing Kudirat Abiola, were stepped down for him to be used to testify against Maj. Hamza Al-Mustapha.
This was in the case between him and the Lagos State government over the killing of the wife of the acclaimed winner of the 1992 presidential election, late M.K.O Abiola.
It has now clearly shown that, either corruption is fighting back or simply that some people want to be mischievous and to hoodwink and divert the estimation of Nigerians from the core issues at stake,” Isah said.
He expressed concern that no one was talking of the unprofessional conduct of Adeosun-Philips who was handling a brief in an ongoing suit at the Federal High Court in Lagos against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
He said this amounted to conflict of interest which he failed to disclose when being engaged.
The NPCC, chaired by Malami, was inaugurated by Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo on May 27, 2016.
It is charged with assisting the Attorney- General in the exercise of his prosecutorial powers under Section 150 and 174(1) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria; especially as it involves high profile criminal cases.
The Federal Government has appointed Olufemi Fakunle of the Federal Ministry of Justice, as the Lead Prosecutor in Justice Ngwuta’s trial.
Shortly after announcing her appearance, Fatunde made an oral application seeking an adjournment of the case, to enable her to study the file and also interview the witnesses.
Lawyer to the defendant, Kanu Agabi (SAN), however, did not oppose the application.
Justice John Tsoho, adjourned the case to March 16 and 17, 2017, for continuation of trial.