A panel set up by President Muhammadu Buhari in July 2020 recommended the prosecution of former Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, who was indicted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in a multi-billion naira scandal, but the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, has frustrated the trial.
SaharaReporters learnt that the panel headed by Justice Salami Ayo (Retd) recommended the immediate prosecution of Oduah, which was also approved by the President.
However, Malami has several times bungled Oduah’s trial alongside some other top profile politicians.
A source told SaharaReporters, “President Buhari set up an investigative panel in 2020 headed by Justice Salami JCA (retd) to review some cases investigated by the EFCC; the case of Stella Oduah is one of the major cases that the Justice Ayo Salami-led presidential panel reviewed and recommended on November 20th, 2020 for the immediate prosecution of Oduah.
“Buhari approved this recommendation for the immediate prosecution of Stella Oduah. It is quite strange and sad that a case that has been reviewed by the presidential panel with the full approval of Mr President for prosecution can be stalled by a mere letter of counsel for Stella Oduah and the office of AGF. What a shame to the administration of Buhari.”
On Monday, Oduah’s trial was again stalled as a result of a petition from Oduah’s lawyer to Malami.
Oduah and her co-accused persons could not take a plea because of an application by one of the defence lawyers, Ogwu Onoja (SAN), asking the court not to go on with the plea taking.
Onoja informed the court that there was a petition dated January 29, to the Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, in respect of the charge.
According to Onoja, the letter of complaint claimed that Oduah and the other defendants are being persecuted.
Onoja said having submitted the petition to the AGF, “he requested for the file but up till now, the EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) vehemently refused to remit the file to the AGF.”
“The question is: Can the AGF request for a file to review a criminal charge, and an agency will say no,” Onoja queried.
“My lord, the plea cannot be taken on account of the issue at hand,” Onoja added.
Given the foregoing, Justice Ekwo said the attention of the court had been drawn to a letter and that the file had been remitted to the chamber of the AGF for review.
The court said since a statutory and constitutional issue had been raised, it would not hear the case summarily.
Therefore, the court ordered parties to file written addresses on the issue before adjourning to February 10.
SaharaReporters had reported that there were concerted efforts by a few persons in key positions to compromise and frustrate Oduah’s prosecution.
Speaking to SaharaReporters in October, a source at the Presidency had said there were concerted and subtle efforts by Senate President Ahmad Lawan and Deputy Senate President Ovie Omo-Agege to “frustrate, sabotage and compromise the EFCC, its witnesses and prosecution team and Justice Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja.”
He had added, “There are concerted and subtle efforts by Deputy Senate President and Senate President to sabotage President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption stance by mounting undue pressure on the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, the Chairman of Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, and also Justice Ekwo of Federal High Court Abuja for them to frustrate, compromise and sabotage the prosecution and trial of Sen Stella Oduah, former Minister of Aviation.
“This well-orchestrated plan has been perfected by the above-mentioned highly placed Nigerians.”
SaharaReporters learnt that since Oduah dumped the Peoples Democratic Party for the APC, Malami had been making efforts to put a stop to the trial.
Oduah, who the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) indicted in 2014, alongside the Nigerian subsidiary of a Chinese construction company, CCECC, in alleged fraudulent cash transactions of about N5 billion, has refused to appear in court with the backing of the AGF.
On December 17, 2020, EFCC filed 25 counts against Oduah (1st defendant), CCECC Nigeria Limited (9th defendant) and seven others comprising persons and firms.
Oduah was to be arraigned on February 9, 2021, but she did not appear in court on the excuse that she had not been served the papers; the court then adjourned to February 22 for her arraignment but the defendant had refused to appear in court.
The court also fixed April 19 for the arraignment but the strike embarked upon by members of the Judiciary Staff Union of Nigeria delayed the court hearing.
On July 12, Oduah refused to appear in court and the judge threatened to issue a warrant of arrest against her and other defendants if they failed to appear in court by the next adjourned date.
SaharaReporters learnt that Oduah’s interest is being protected after she dumped the PDP for APC.
On August 27, 2021, Oduah joined the APC, claiming she joined the party to change the political narrative in the South-East.
Oduah, like some other politicians who joined the ruling party, has been under investigation by the EFCC for her alleged involvement in a scandal.
The allegations include a dubious contract for the supply of security equipment to 22 airports across the country.