Billionaire businessman, Mr. Femi Otedola, has been scheduled to appear as a prosecution witness before a Federal Capital Territory High Court in Lugbe, Abuja, in the ongoing trial of a former Chairman, House of Representatives Ad-hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy, Mr. Farouk Lawan, for alleged bribery.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission is prosecuting Lawan for allegedly “corruptly” collecting $500,000 out of the $3m bribe he requested from Otedola in exchange for the removal of the businessman’s company’s name from the list of firms indicted by the House committee for allegedly abusing the fuel subsidy regime in 2012.
The presiding judge, Justice Angela Otakula, on Tuesday adjourned the case till March 7 and 8 to enable the first prosecution witness, Mr. Boniface Emenalo, who was then secretary to the Lawan-led committee, to conclude his evidence.
Otedola, the chairman of Zenon Petroleum and Gas Limited, is expected to appear in court as the second prosecution witness on either of the two days, depending on how soon Emenalo concludes his own part.
Our correspondent learnt that Otedola was initially scheduled to testify against Lawan on February 2, but the businessman, who was somewhere within the court premises during the proceedings, was said to have taken his leave when it was clear that Emenalo was going to stay much longer in the witness box.
The lead prosecuting counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN), was only able to tender some documents through Emenalo on February 2 before the case was adjourned till Tuesday.
Emenalo returned to the witness box on Tuesday but the case was stalled, as Awomolo informed the court of the difficulties he encountered in his bid to pay for the certification of the tendered documents as directed by the court.
Justice Otakula had on February 2 overruled the objection of the defence counsel, Mr. Sekop Zumka, to the admissibility of the documents over non-payment of the certification fees.
The judge had admitted the documents as exhibits but subject to the payment of the fees, as she held that the non-payment of the fees could not have rendered a document inadmissible inasmuch as it was relevant to the case.
Awomolo said on Tuesday that the National Assembly had no avenue for collecting such fees and sought for extension of time to enable him to receive guidance on how to go about it.
The judge granted the extension of time and directed that the prosecution should go ahead to pay the fees to any government revenue collector.
Before giving the directive, the judge overruled a fresh objection raised by Lawan’s lawyer, Zuma, who had insisted that the money ought to be paid to the National Assembly.
The judge thereafter adjourned the case till March 7.
Emenalo was initially charged along with Lawan with respect to the bribery charge.
Both of them were first arraigned before Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi, then of the FCT High Court on February 2, 2013.
But a later amendment to the charges by the ICPC saw Emenalo’s name removed as a defendant.
Lawan is now the sole accused person in the case.
The case was re-assigned to Justice Adebukola Banjoko after Justice Oniyangi was elevated to the position of a Justice of the Court of Appeal.
The case was further re-assigned to Justice Otakula in Lugbe Division of the FCT High Court following the withdrawal of Justice Banjoko from the case in November 2014.
The amended charges, comprising three counts instead of the previous seven, now indicated that Lawan corruptly asked for $3m from Otedola and did corruptly collect $500,000 from the businessman.
The offences are said to be contrary to sections 8(1)(a) and 17(1) (a) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000 and punishable under sections 8(1) and 17(1) of the same Act.