N50 Billion Scam: How Onovo saved Kenny Martins, Others from prosecution
Chief Kenny Martins
The immediate past Inspector-General of Police, Mr. Ogbonnaya Onovo may have played a pivotal role in the Federal Government's decision to discontinue a case of fraud and forgery against four chieftains of Police Equipment Fund (PEF)- Kenny Martins, Ibrahim Dumuje, Tony Icheka and Cosmas Okpara.
Mr. Martins and his group were charged to court by the EFCC, on the basis of two petitions which had alleged that they defrauded the Federal Government to the tune of N50 Billion in a petition written by the Sultan of Sokoto and a group known as the Integrity Group.
The move had sparked an uproar, with 10 civil society groups recently calling for the resignation of the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Bello Adoke over what they described as the minister's “total lack of commitment to the anti-corruption war” and for violating “Sections 15 (5) and 174 (3) of the 1999 Constitution.”
Also joining the fray was the Action Congress presidential candidate, Mallam Nuhu Ribadu, who insisted on Adoke's removal.
However, in a letter dated 20 th July, 2010, to Attorney-General Adoke, the police boss had urged a discontinuation of the case which he said his organization and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) were finding very difficult to establish.
Ministry officials had also advised against allowing Festus Keyamo continues to represent the government as a private prosecutor over what they said were his vested interests in the matter.
Onovo's letter, which bore reference number CR: 3000/16 P. SEC/ FHC/ ABJ/ VOL 701711, was entitled: “A Review of Police Equipment Fund: Its Alleged Involvement in Fraud-related Cases and Current Efforts by the Police Leadership on the Reconciliation of the Crisis.”
Penned the police boss: “Well over one year of arraignment of PEF chieftains in courts, the Police and the EFCC have been encountering difficulties in the prosecution of the suspects. The reasons for these cannot be far-fetched.
“It is largely due to lack of sufficient evidence to substantiate the allegations as the burden of proof in any criminal case lies squarely on the prosecution. It is pertinent to mention that both the allegations of forgery and that of fraud being investigated by the police and EFCC got stagnated in the courts.
He added: “From all indications, the continued pursuit of these cases in courts will neither serve the interest of the police nor the Nigerian state in general…,” concluding, “it is therefore the wish of the present leadership of the police to withdraw the lingering court cases and reconcile the issues at stake with a view to moving the Nigeria Police forward.”
Ministry officials were said to be interested in how Keyamo had obtained two fiats in one month (June 4 and 22, 2009) from the then Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa to prosecute Kenny Martins and three other chieftains of PEF. Prince Adetokunbo Kayode (SAN), who briefly served as Nigeria's Attorney-General after Aondoakaa renewed the fiats on February 24, 2010.
However, less than 24 hours after obtaining the fiat from Kayode, a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja gave an order setting aside the fiat on the grounds that it was not properly obtained, and further ordered the Attorney-General of the Federation appoint another legal practitioner to prosecute the accused persons.
Yet again, Keyamo on June 18, 2010 wrote the Attorney-General of the Federation requesting “...For the Confirmation of Fiats Earlier Granted Mr. Festus Keyamo.”
In the two-page letter personally signed by Keyamo and copied EFCC chairman, Mrs. Farida Waziri, the Lagos lawyer noted that he “undertook to prosecute the cases at no cost to the Ministry of Justice and the Federal Government as part of our contribution to the fight against corruption.
“However,” observed Keyamo, “in a meeting with the Acting DPP, Mr. Olatigbe, this morning the 18 th day of June, 2010, with our counsel Mr. Oghnovo Otemu, we were orally informed that the ministry intends to revoke the our (sic) fiat in respect of charge number CR/68/09 pending at the FCT High Court, sitting at Gwagwalada, even without any previous formal notice and without any reason.”
He wrote: “The least we expect from the ministry is to strengthen our hands by even re-confirming our fiats and reassuring us of your support,” stressing, “this is what we respectfully ask from you, sir.”
However, apparently responding to a minute by the AGF, the State Counsel, Akutah Pius Ukeyima advised the minister to “withdraw all existing Fiats under Sections 174 (3) in the public interest, interest of justice and the need to prevent abuse of legal process.
The State Counsel, in the memo dated 23 rd June, 2010, further urged the Attorney-General to “take over and continue prosecution of the said cases” since, according to him, “Mr. Festus Keyamo has become personally involved and interested in the case to allow for a dispassionate prosecution.” He added: “A prosecutor is not to be viewed as a persecutor.” F. F. Egele was thereafter appointed to take over the case.