A former Deputy Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Mr. Rasheed Taiwo Owolabi, has accused the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, (CCT) Mr. Danladi Yakubu Umar, of corruption and bias.
He has therefore asked Umar to disqualify himself from the tribunal panel that will try him on false asset declaration charges.
Owolabi is standing trial on a one-count charge of failure to declare his assets throughout his career in the public service contrary to paragraph II (1) of the Fifth Schedule, Part 1 and punishable under Paragraph 18 (1) and (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
But the ex-Customs chief claimed that Umar in 2012 shortly after the charge was slammed on him, once approached him for a bribe of N10m to pervert the cause of justice in a criminal matter filed by the federal government.
In his motion on notice filed argued by his counsel, Mr. Festus Ukpe, the applicant claimed that he reported Umar to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, prompting his arrest and interrogation on the alleged bribery request.
Owolabi claimed that he would never get a fair trial and justice from the CCT boss, having implicated him in the bribery saga. He said this was what led to the ongoing trial of Umar’s Personal Assistant, Ali Gambo Abdullahi, for a criminal offence at an Abuja High Court.
Specifically, Owolabi alleged that the CCT boss had become biased against him for dragging him (Umar) to the anti-graft agency on his demand for N10m bribe and the part payment of N1.8m. He said he cannot get justice before the tribunal as required by law.
Owolabi who appeared at the tribunal yesterday prayed that the charge against him since 2012 be stuck out for want of diligent prosecution and for the likelihood of bias against him.
The defence counsel predicated the motion asking Umar to disqualify himself on five issues, among which was that during the pendency of his trial, he made several allegations of graft against the CCT chairman, which led to the trial of his PA in respect of the allegation.
He insisted that it has become legally impossible for the CCT chairman to adjudicate over the matter because of a real likelihood of bias by Umar against him.
The applicant therefore asked Umar to disqualify himself from the CCT panel billed to try him on the ground that he (applicant) would not get a fair trial and justice from any trial conducted by Umar.
“The defendant filed an application – a motion on notice asking the tribunal to strike out the case. This motion is supported with an affidavit and written address. The application bordered on the issue of fair hearing by the affidavit in support of this application. It is clear that the defendant will likely not get fair hearing if the present charge is allowed to continue.
“By the affidavit, certain allegations were made by the defendant. The issue of actual bias does not arise but the likelihood of bias. With this, the proper thing is for the tribunal chairman to disqualify himself from this trial and this is our prayer.
“For whatever reason, the prosecution has refused to open their case. If that is the case, the tribunal should strike out the charge.
“We are not saying the tribunal should dismiss but strike out the case and whenever the court is reconstituted after the disqualification of the chairman from this trial, we can come back and continue with the case. But as it is now, the chairman does not have power to continue with the hearing in the interest of justice.”
However, in opposing the motion, the Code of Conduct Bureau, which on behalf of the Federal Government filed the charge against the ex-Custom’s chief urged the tribunal chairman to dismiss the motion on the ground that it lacks merit.
Counsel to the CCB, Mr. Peter Danladi, who is prosecuting the defendant told the tribunal that the motion was a ploy to further delay the trial. He added that the tribunal had in 2013 filed a motion at the court of appeal but abandoned the appeal.
The CCB lawyer said the tribunal chairman cannot take the place of the prosecution as the tribunal has always held that the prosecution should prove its case beyond reasonable doubt even though the offence of failure to declare one’s assets is a strict liability offence.
“This application is vexatious and a ploy to stop the trial of the accused. It is in the interest of justice to deny this application and ask the accused to be ready for his trial at this tribunal.
“The prosecution has filed a counter-affidavit dated May 25. It was disposed to by one Suzanne with a three-paragraph affidavit and attached to it are three exhibits. We are relying on all the paragraphs in the affidavit as counter to the Motion on Notice.
Also, we have filed a written address in which they raised three issues for determination.
“When the accused was arraigned he took his plea and pleaded not guilty only for them to return, alleging likelihood of bias. We ask this Honourable tribunal to deny the application and ask him to stand trial,” he stated.
The tribunal chairman fixed June 14 for ruling on the motion.