[Featured Photo: Dr. Waripamo Dudafa]
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos on Thursday discharged and acquitted former President Goodluck Jonathan’s aide on Domestic Affairs, Dr Waripamo Owei-Dudafa, of alleged N1.6 billion money laundering charge, accusing the prosecution of not diligently concluding its investigation before rushing to court.
But the prosecuting agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has said it will appeal the judgment.
“Let me state for the avoidance of doubt that the Judiciary is fully committed to the fight against corruption, but the Judiciary can only perform its role in this fight in accordance with laid-down rules and regulations.
“In this case, the investigation was clearly inconclusive. A lot of gaps were left unfilled. This is unacceptable… I find the defendant not guilty.”
In his 190-page judgment, Justice Mohammed Idris said the EFCC failed to prove any of the 22 counts against Owei-Dudafa and a Heritage Bank worker, Joseph Iwejuo, beyond reasonable doubt.
He lampooned the commission for failing to properly investigate the matter before rushing to court in 2017, when the defendants were arraigned.
According to him, the anti-graft agency failed to invite vital witnesses, including Jonathan, Somprei Omeibi, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) governor and ex-National Security Adviser (NSA) Col. Sambo Dasuki (retd.).
The judge said Omeibi, who could have linked the defendants to the offences, was not summoned to testify.
“Why did the prosecution fail to call this Somprei Omeibi? There is no evidence before this court to show that Somprei Omeibi is dead or not within the right frame of mind to testify; neither is there any proof before this court to prove that it would be practically impossible to secure the attendance of Somprei Omeibi to court to testify and probably admit or deny the defence put forward by the defendant.
“It is strongly my view that Somprei Omeibi is a very vital witness and he is the only link connecting the first and second defendants. To my mind, he is a very vital witness, who the prosecution should have called to prove its case.”
The defendants had asserted that the N1.6 billion was proceeds of a March 6, 2013 launching conducted by the Anglican Church of Otuoke Community in Bayelsa State for the building of a youth development centre.
The ex-President kept the money in trust for the church, they said.
The prosecution, the judge noted, made “no attempt to rebut this assertion”.
During the trial, the prosecution alleged that Owei-Dudafa received several “heavy bags” containing millions of dollars on behalf of Dr Jonathan from the CBN.
But the judge wondered: “Did the prosecution call any official of the Central Bank of Nigeria to show that the money was removed from their office? Also, I do not see any evidence that the same funds were released by the CBN. To my mind, the prosecution did not sufficiently link …to the supposed heavy bags carried by the first defendant.”
“The prosecution did not in my view prove ‘unlawful activity’. The case of the prosecution was built on suspicions, and suspicions, in my view, no matter how strong, cannot sustain any criminal charge.”
He adds, “I also say suspicious because the presence of Somprei Omeibi, M. S. Dasuki, the then National Security Adviser; S. A. Salisu, the then Director of Finance and Administration in the Office of the NSA and the CBN governor or his representative would have cleared a lot of issues… The court cannot act on suspicion.”
“I am of the view that the failure of the prosecution to call the witnesses amounted to the prosecution withholding evidence…
“In totality, I cannot find my way clearly in finding these defendants guilty of the alleged offences… Reasonable doubt exists in the prosecution’s case and I do resolve this doubt in favour of the defendants. In other words, the prosecution has failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt the ingredients of the offences for which the first and second defendants were charged.