By Monday Ubani
About four years ago or thereabout a woman by name Dr Mrs Ngozi Olejeme sought my legal representation over an allegation that she converted about N69 billion of Nigerian Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF) to herself while she held sway as the chairman during the tenure of former President Goodluck Jonathan. She was declared wanted by EFCC after she refused to honour their invitation because she was abroad and according to her, was undergoing critical medical treatment over her ill health.
I inquired from her if she committed the crime as alleged and she denied the veracity. Secondly, she opined that her medical condition made it impossible for her to honour their previous invitations, however she was prepared to honour them if she can be guaranteed fair trial without illegal detention.
I demanded her medical reports which she graciously provided, and straighaway I sent a letter to the then EFCC acting chairman, Ibrahim Magu attaching the medical papers and informing him that I have advised my client to come down to respond to the allegations against her. My client naturally was afraid having been abreast of the antecedent of EFCC under Magu but I assured her that she will get a fair trial as we were not under a Banana Republic.
On the date we agreed, she returned from abroad and on the following Monday morning I took her to the office of EFCC in Abuja. They were shocked to see her because several persons like former Attorney General, Mohammed Adoke SAN and former Petroleum Minister, Mrs. Deziani Allison Madueke whom EFCC had declared wanted did not respond to them let alone coming down to face their trial.
Her interrogation on the first day lasted about eight hours after which they told me politely that they will not allow her to go home that day, but because of my personality and previous explanation about her health condition, she will be taken to a hospital of her choice and be under their watch so that her subsequent interviews will proceed without unnecessary interjections. My team of lawyers and I raised objection because the bail conditions they gave her were complied with but the Head of the Investigating Unit, overruled and insisted on his position. We obliged, and got a good hospital in Abuja for her under the watch of about two security personnel of the Agency.
Her detention that we all thought will be short later entered the ninth day. I convinced my client that we should sue for the enforcement of her fundamental human rights as her long detention was contrary to the provisions of the constitution as regards investigation and detention. She agreed and we filed the court process and served EFCC. In response, they attached a court order ganting EFCC power to detain her for 14 days. It was shocking for me as we were not aware of this secret court order that was never served.
On the date slated for the hearing of the application, the court did not sit but the EFCC prosecuting counsel wrote and convinced the then Acting Chairman to release the woman on administrative bail.
We provided two senior civil servants of grade level 14 and 15 as sureties as required by their condition of bail and presented to them. When the application was presented before Magu, he blatantly refused to approve, insisting that the sureties must be ‘Elder Statesmen’, contrary to the bail condition. We were wondering who these elder statesmen should be. The Unit head then quipped that the chairman will not mind if I will stand surety for her since I was the one that convinced her to come down for her case . My client heard him clearly that my suretyship will grant her freedom to go home. At that point I had a moral burden to get her out of detention having been denied that opportunity after returning from abroad for 14 days.
Secondly, her health was deteriorating due to staying in one place for that long, and thirdly she was complaining of not taking proper bath for those days due to the condition of her health. Finally, she was under severe psychological stress by virtue of her ugly situation. Despite my assurances that she will get fair treatment and trial, she felt that her coming back to Nigeria to respond to the allegations has not been reciprocated by the EFCC by virtue of her long detention. She was very distraught!
When that window of opportunity was given that my suretyship will let her go home and get her prepared for trial, I felt mutually obliged to be of assistance to a woman who honoured my word when I promised the Agency that she will come down for her trial. She did come down as agreed. If I had refused to stand for her at that point, she has every right to conclude that I was in league with EFCC to bring her down to humiliate and embarrass her person. That would not have been the truth and I needed to prove that point to her. For me, I desired her to come down in order to respond to the myriads of allegation that was not good for her reputation.
On the path of EFCC, I also desired them to prove and convict the woman if she was liable or discharge and acquit her if she was innocent. On the basis of the two desires, I provided the link for both parties to satisfy their need.
To cut a long story short, Mrs Olejeme was granted administrative bail that night(at about 9pm) by virtue of my singular signature despite that the condition of bail was that they needed two sureties. The second surety, Hon Christopher Enai, came to sign his own papers two days later after her release to fulfil all righteousness.
After her release, Mrs Olejeme was honouring their invitations except one or two occasions when she was ill and which she explained in writing through her solicitors. I ensured that whenever she had interview sessions with them that I will be there physically in accordance with the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, and I was doing this regularly coming from Lagos to Abuja.
In course of the investigation, two things happened that startled me. One was that EFCC’s investigation was anchored only on one witness whose evidence was mere hearsay and uncorroborated. It was the witness’s words against the accused and secondly, EFCC was more interested in the properties of the woman more than the facts of the case that will secure her conviction. I was wondering how EFCC will forfeit the property of an accused person facing trial without first securing her conviction except that can happen in a country run by the likes of Ibrahim Magu.
From December to April the following year, the EFCC that published to the whole world how Olejeme stole N69 billion remained static and was not able and keen to prefer any charge against her. However, something strange happened one morning in April 2018. EFCC operatives numbering over 18 from Enugu invaded the home of Mrs Olejeme over a matter that was purely civil and stayed in the woman’s house searching her for over 10 hours. They blocked every entrance and exit on the street. Having failed to convince her to follow them to Enugu, they left her for another assignment according to them. My client fearing for her life escaped from her home and was not heard or seen until this Thursday April 15, 2021 when I heard that SHE IS BACK TO NIGERIA AND HAS REPORTED TO EFCC, possibly to face her trial.
When she escaped and went abroad due to the treatment she got from EFCC, I was called upon by the same EFCC to produce her. I felt that it was very wicked of the Agency to drive the woman back abroad and still have the audacity to request that I produce her. I felt outraged but as patriot I went after the woman through INTERPOL and finally got her placed on RED ALERT by Interpol headquarters in France. That piece of good news got Magu infuriated as he needed unwarranted evidence to embarrass himself and not me. In his clueless fury, he ordered my arrest and detention.
If an accused person jumps bail, the surety certainly has not committed any offence under our law. It is a civil matter which is to the effect that the surety forfeits the bail bond. It is only when the surety is unable to pay the stated sum in the bail bond that he or she will be sentenced to a term of imprisonment. Ibrahim Magu’s EFCC read their own law upside down and criminalised a purely civil matter. I even over heard that they said I breached the Rules of Professional Conduct of NBA. When did EFCC start to enforce Rules of Professional Conduct for NBA?
The truth of the matter is that I did not breach any rule of professional conduct of NBA in the first instance, as the said Rule is only applicable to a lawyer who is defending an accused in court and stands surety for the same client in the court. The matter at hand then was not yet before any court; it was an administrative bail by the Agency pending formal charge before any court. That was how EFCC under Magu operated; lawless, clueless and brash!
I immediately instructed my lawyers to enforce my fundamental human rights before the court, and quickly process was filed and served. The court ordered my release or a formal charge if I have committed any offence. Ibrahim Magu disobeyed the court order and kept me in detention for 23 days contrary to the order of the court. My lawyers commenced contempt proceedings and with avalanche of criticisms from all quarters including the harshest from NBA, CLASFON, OTU OKA IWU(Lawyers), Femi Falana SAN, Chief Mike Ozekhome SAN and several NGOs and well meaning Nigerians, Ibrahim Magu was dazzed as he ordered my release by 11:00PM. I refused his release by that ungodly hour and remained in detention till the following morning to be sure of my safety.
I prayed two “dangerous” prayers while in and out of detention. Yes you heard me right. One, is that as long as Ibrahim Magu has refused to see the wrong he has committed against me and several others and has not apologised including making peace, that God should disgrace him out of office.
Those who are close to me and those inmates with me at the EFCC facility in Abuja remembered this prayer point when it was answered. I am not rejoicing at Magu’s fall but how I wish that men in power both in Nigeria and elsewhere will know and understand that POWER IS TRANSIENT AND EHPEMERAL.
In his glory, Ibrahim Magu felt he has become “God”. God will never share his glory with anyone. His rise and fall is a story for another day.
The second prayer i prayed was that Mrs Olejeme will never have peace of mind wherever she is on planet earth until she comes back to answer to her charges and prove to the world that I neither wronged her nor Nigeria.
Just this Thursday, the 15th of April, two years after I was wrongly detained by Magu’s EFCC, I got a call from Hon Enai, my Co-surety that Mrs Olejeme is back to the country and has dutifully reported herself to EFCC.
To say the least, I was elated and grateful to God for answered prayers. Since she escaped, she has intentionally refused to call or speak with me. She has her reasons, it may be out of fear or for some other reasons best known to her. For now it is no longer my headache. I have my plans. She is back to face her case and the ONUS IS ON EFCC TO PROVE THE THEFT OF N69 Billion against her. Newspaper and public trial characterisation of Magu era is gone, perhaps for good.
Let everyone accused of crime in Nigeria be given fair trial and let those who are guilty be jailed, while those who are innocent be discharged and acquitted. That is how it is done in every civilized clime. I further plead that let everyone note ” that Anyone ACCUSED OF CRIME, NO MATTER HOW GRIEVIOUS, that person is ENTITLED TO LEGAL REPRESENTATION”. It becomes even compulsory under the law if the crime is grievous and carries death penalty. On no account should public opinion be used to scare any diligent lawyer from defending any accused person especially if the accused story is contrary to the “spurious” allegations by the Prosecutor. In saying this, I am not pronouncing Mrs Olejeme innocent but from what I saw during her interview sessions, the spurious figure of N69 billion is not only ridiculous, it is down right stupid to market that kind of figure to the public when the evidence on ground is nothing near that!
While we await the trial proceedings or whatever EFCC wants to do with her, my ultimate joy is that I have been vindicated as I have no hand in her escape. I never knew her while she was the chaiman of NSITF. I only played the role of a patriot in bringing her back and I am here giving glory to God for vindicating me that I did not committ any crime in doing that or while doing that.
I have applied and withdrawn my suretyship of the woman from EFCC. The letter to that effect was written and acknowledged on the 16th of April, 2021.
All in all, “the just shall live by faith”, the word of God say so. It further says “Say to the righteous and it shall be well with him”. “No weapon fashioned against any Child of God shall prosper”. My trust is on God, and He alone will continue to direct my path.
My profound gratitude goes to my comrades, friends, senior friends and colleagues, family members and workers including silent and distant admirers who stood with me at those trying period. They shall make heaven, Amen.
God shall also bless my haters and unknown enemies. They may have their reasons since I am not perfect and never claim to be. We all need God’s forgiveness and Grace on this planet earth.
To God be all the glory, honour and praise for honouring His name. I am wantonly grateful to this awesome God!
M.O. Ubani Esq(MOU).
Barrister & Solicitor.