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N894M CONTRACT SCAM: COURT DECIDES BANKOLE'S FATE DEC 19

By NBF News
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Dimeji Bankole
A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja will on December 19, decide whether or not to quash the 16-count criminal charge filed against the ex-speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Besides, Justice Donatus Okorowo will deliver his ruling on the motion filed by the embattled former speaker seeking to disqualify activist lawyer, Festus Keyamo, from prosecuting him.

Bankole was docked before a Federal High Court on a 16-count charge of contract inflation amounting to the sum of N894 million by the EFCC.

However, the former speaker is challenging the competence of the charges against him on the grounds that the Proof of Evidence attached to the charges did not establish any shred of criminality against him.

Moving the applications to quash the charges, counsel to Bankole, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo (SAN) in company with Dr. Anwa Kalu (SAN) divided the charges into three parts in his bid to convince the court that there was nothing in the charge linking his client with the offence.

According to him, 'the first part relates to counts 1, 4, 7, 10 and 11, the second part relates to inflation of bulk prices of supply as contained in counts 2, 5 and 8 while the third part relates to counts 3, 9, 12, 13, 14,15 and 16 respectively.'

With respect to the first category of charges, Awomolo argued that it fell under Section 58 of the Public Procurement Act and only specific persons like contractors, suppliers, consultants and procurement officers could be charged under the provision.

According to him, there was no shred of evidence in the proof of evidence that his client conspired with contractors, suppliers, or officers of the National Assembly like procurement officers to commit the alleged offence.

On the second category of the charges, Awomolo argued that they fell within the provisions of Section 58(4)(b) of the Public Procurement Act and required the prosecutor to show two different prices, i.e the legitimate price and the inflated price for the accused to see, which the prosecution had failed to do.

He said the third category related to alleged rigging of the bidding process which was covered by Section 23-34 of the Act and argued that his client was not involved in the bidding process.

Awomolo cited the Supreme Court decision in Abacha Vs State where it was held that the court had no duty to infer or assume that everything must be contained in the proof of evidence and urged the court to hold that the Proof of Evidence as presently constituted would not justify subjecting his client to criminal trial.

On his application seeking to disqualify Keyamo from prosecuting Bankole, Awomolo claimed that his client would not get fair trial from Keyamo as demanded by law. He said the prosecutor would engage in persecution having been biased against him already and asked the court to disqualify Keyamo or in the alternative order him to disqualify himself in the interest of justice and fair play.

He drew the attention of the court to a letter purportedly written by Keyamo to Bankole accusing him of fraud on the purchase of vehicles for members of the National Assembly.

In the said letter, Awomolo alleged that Keyamo called his client several names and called his integrity into question, adding that with that petition, Keyamo was morally and legally incompetent to be the one that would prosecute him in the case at hand.

However, in a swift reaction, Keyamo asked the court to ignore Bankole on the ground that Bankole was chasing shadows at the expense of the real issue. He admitted accusing the former speaker of fraud in the past but insisted that his petition against him could not remove him from prosecuting the case on behalf of the EFCC.

Keyamo cited the case of Gani Fawehinmi and Halilu Alilu, the former director of military intelligence, adding that in spite of Gani Fawehinmi's accusation, the Supreme Court still allowed him to prosecute Akilu.

He argued further that by the provisions of Section 167 of the Criminal Procedure Act, the accused person having taken part in the proceedings by taking his plea and arguing his bail application could not now challenge the competence of the prosecutor as it was too late in the day to so do.

On this, he cited the cases of Amadi Vs FRN, Magaji Vs Nigerian Army and Bode George Vs FRN (Supra) to support his arguments.

On whether Bankole could not be tried under the Procurement Act as argued by his counsel, Keyamo cited the case of FRN Vs Bode George and Section 7 of the Criminal Code to hold that all parties to the commission of a crime were liable and could be tried by aiding and abetting the commission of the crime.

He argued that the prosecution was not restrictive by the Proof of Evidence attached to a charge and the non-failure to provide different prices of the items could not render the charge sheet defective.

The 16-count charge against Bankole are built around allegations bordering on contract inflation for the purchase of sundry items including but not limited to electronic gadgets, vehicles and other accessories.

According to the Proof of Evidence attached to the charge sheet, the EFCC is expected to call four witnesses to prove the allegation of fraud against the former Speaker.

Besides, the Commission will further rely on contract documents for the purchase of all items contained in the charge, minutes of meeting of May 28, 2008 of Body of Principal Officers, Statement of witnesses and those of the accused persons.

Some of the charges read:
'That you, Dimeji Bankole and others now at large on or about the 28th of May, within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court, being Body of Principal officers of the House of Representatives responsible for the approval of contracts in the House of Representatives, with intent to defraud, did conspire amongst yourselves to inflate the cost of 400 units of 40-inch Samsung (LNS.3410 Television sets by approval the purchase of the said item at the rate of N525, 000.00 per unit, instead of the prevailing market price of N295, 000.00 and thereby committed an offense contrary to Section 58 (4) (a) of the public Procurement Act No. 14 of 2007 and punishable under Section 58 (5) of the same Act.

'That you, Dimeji Bankole and others now at large, on or about the 28th of May, 2008 within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court being body of Principal officers of the House of Representatives responsible for the approval of contracts in the House of Representatives , with intent to defraud, rigged the bid for the purchase of 100 units of Sharp Digital Copier 5316 by refusal to follow all the procedures prescribed for public procurements in Sections 17 to 56 of the Public Procurement Act N0.14 of 2007, leading to a loss of value to the national treasury and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 58 (4) (e) of the Public Procurement Act, No.14 of 2007 and punishable under Section 58 (5) of the same Act.'

'That you, Dimeji Bankole and others now at large, on or about the 28th of May, 2008 within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court being body of Principal officers of the House of Representatives responsible for the approval of contracts in the House of Representatives , with intent to defraud, rigged the bid for the purchase of 3 units of Mercedes Benz S-600 cars by refusal to follow all the procedures prescribed for public procurements in Sections 17 to 56 of the Public Procurement Act No.14 of 2007, leading to a loss of value to the national treasury and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 58 (4) (e) of the Public Procurement Act, No.14 of 2007 and punishable under Section 58 (5) of the same Act.'