The Federal Government said yesterday that it fired Charles Adeogun-Phillips, the lead prosecutor in the trial of Supreme Court’s Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, for alleged conflict of interests.
This is contrary to the claim by the former prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) that he withdrew.
Adeogun-Phillips led the prosecution team until February 9 when he announced his withdrawal from the case. He was silent on what informed his decision.
He was the leader of ‘Team 16’of the National Prosecution Coordination Committee (NPCC) saddled with the prosecution of the case involving Justice Ngwuta and three officials of the Supreme Court, including the Chief Registrar, Ahmed Gambo Saleh.
Saleh, Muhammad Abdulrahman Sharif and Rilwanu Lawal (both officials of the Supreme Court’s Accounts Department) were charged with alleged diversion of about N2.2billion and acceptance of gratification from contractors engaged by the court.
On February 7, the office of the AGF withdrew the nine-count charge, marked: CR/13/2016, filed against Saleh and others before the High Court of the Federal Capital territory (FCT) on November 3 last year. State’s lawyer, Mrs. Hajara Yusuf was silent on the reason behind the withdrawal.
Subsequent media reports, quoting some sources close to Adeogun-Phillips, however attributed his sudden withdrawal from Justice Ngwuta’s trial to his disagreement with the office of the AGF over its decision to discontinue the trial of Saleh and others, which is believed to have involved the largest amount of money – N2.2b.
But, the office of the AGF yesterday faulted such reports, claiming that the lawyer was sacked because he allegedly withheld information about his involvement in a case against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Salihu Isah, Media aide to the AGF, Abubakar Malami (SAN), said in a statement yesterday that it was wrong for the AGF to retain Adeogun-Phillips while he was representing a private interest against a government agency.
Isah also faulted insinuation that the decision to discontinue Saleh and others’ trial had religious and ethnic undertone.
He said the charge against the Supreme Court officials was withdrawn because Saleh had agreed to serve as prosecution witness in Justice Ngwuta’s trial, which resumes today.
He said a letter disengaging Adeogun-Phillips sent to him on Februrary 6 was acknowledged on February 8.
The letter partly reads: “Contrary to impressions given by Charles Adeogun-Philips, the lead prosecutor in the suit against Supreme Court judge, Justice Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta in various reports, suggesting that he withdrew from the case on his own volition, the National Prosecution Coordination Committee (NPCC) that engaged his services actually withdrew thefiat issued to him to prosecute the case over non-disclosure of conflict of interest and for other sundry reasons.
“The reports in a section of the media last Friday 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, Muhammad Abdulrahman Sharif and Rilwanu Lawal which he is also handling for the Federal Government and withdrawn against his consent, cannot be relied upon.
“The insinuation that the AGF withdrew the case against the three Supreme Court officials because they are Northerners is also unwarranted due to the fact that 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.
“So, 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 precedence, there was a time in the history of this nation that the allegations against Sergeant Rogers who was accused of killing Kudirat Abiola were stepped down for him to be used to testify against Major Hamza Al-Mustapha 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 Chief 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 attention of Nigerians from the core issues at stake.
“Charles Adeosun-Philips is handling a brief in an ongoing suit at the Federal High Court in Lagos against the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which amounts to conflict of interest, which he failed to disclose when being engaged.
“The suit in question involves a bank executive, who is alleged to have laundered $40m on behalf of former Minister of Petroleum, Mrs. Diezani Allison-Madueke as part of the $153, 310, 000.00 she is alleged to have siphoned from the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC).
“The EFCC is currently prosecuting the case before the Honourable Justice Muslim Hassan of the Federal High Court, Lagos pursuant to Section 17 of the Advanced Fees Fraud and Other Related Offences Act No. 14 of 2006 as well as Section 44(2) of the 1999 Constitution of the Federation of Nigeria.
“It would be recalled that the National Prosecution Coordination Committee (NPCC) chaired by the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) was inaugurated by Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo on May 27, 2016 at the Presidential Villa.
”It is charged with assisting the Attorney-General of the Federation 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,” he said.
Isah, who is also the Head of Communication and Public Affairs at the NPCC, said information about Adeogun-Philips’ sack was conveyed to him vide a letter titled, ‘Withdrawal of your name as a member of Team 16 of the National Prosecution Team handling charges No. FHC/ABJ/C/232/16-FRN vs Sylvester N. Ngwuta’ dated 6th February, 2017 and signed by the Special Assistant to the President on Research and Special Projects, who doubles as the NPCC Secretary, Sylvester O. Imhanobe.
He said Adeogun-Philips acknowledged receipt of the letter through an email message dated February 8 where, according to Isah, he said: “Your letter of 6 February 2017, is received with great relief. I wish you and/or your colleagues at the NPCC, success in the continued prosecution of your ‘high profile’ cases. With my very best wishes.”
Isah said, in view of its experience with the Adeogun-Phillips’ case, the NPCC “plans to carry out a critical surgery on the present composition of the entire prosecution team to weed out those with question marks around them, because they had been informed before hands that anyone found wanting would be eased out since it is a continuous process.
“Meanwhile, the other members of Team 16 of the NPCC comprising Hajara Yusuf, Dr. M. Lawal Yusufari and Ibrahim Waru remain intact as only its leader is affected.”