N78M Fraud: How Bayelsa DPP Shield Speaker, Others from Prosecution
By Wisdom Patrick, Lagos
Three months after the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, Bello Adoke, directed that operatives of the Special Fraud Unit, SFU, proceed with prosecution of the Speaker, Bayelsa State House of Assembly, Hon. Konbowei Benson, the Clerk, Aaron Nicodemus and others, for misapplying the sum of N78Million, the trial is yet to begin.
A top Police source at SFU told our correspondent in a telephone interview that the Bayelsa State Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice through the office of the Director of Public Prosecution, DPP, is doing everything possible to frustrate the case.
“Since five months ego we received the directive from the Attorney General of the Federation to proceed with the prosecution of the Speaker and other members of the Assembly, we have made several attempts to go ahead with the proceeding but all our efforts are being frustrated by officials of the state judiciary.”
Asked if the latest development has been reported to the Federal Attorney General, the Police detective answered in the negative, but insisted that it would not serve any purpose as the state must play active part in the prosecution of the Speaker and others. The former Commissioner of Police (CP) Special Fraud Unit (SFU) Tunde Ogunsakin, had said in an interview that he was ready to prosecute the Speaker, the Clerk and other indicted members of the Assembly for defrauding the state government.
The Department of Public Prosecution, DPP, office of the Minister of Justice and Attorney General of the Federation, Bello Adoke had since October last year formally directed the Police authority at the Special Fraud Unit, SFU, Lagos to proceed with the prosecution of the speaker, Bayelsa State House of Assembly Hon. Konbowei Benson Friday, the Clerk, Aaron Nicodemus Timiye and others over the alleged misapplications of N78Million.
The DPP directive was forwarded to the former Commissioner of Police, CP, Special Fraud Unit, Tunde Ogunsakin, sometime in the same October. The directive itself, was dated, 11th May, 2013. It was signed by one E. K. Ugwu.
However, sources at DPP office in Ikoyi, Lagos who confirmed this development to Political Economist, added that the Bayelsa State DPP, with the Police want to ensure that the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker, the Clerk and, “everyone involved in the fraud are brought to book. The prosecution of the suspects must begin in earnest because a crime has already been committed.”
Similarly, the Police Public Relations Officer, PPRO, Special Fraud Unit, Milvertons Road, Ikoyi in Lagos, Ngozi Izitumhe, in an interview had confirmed that the DPP directive to proceed with the prosecution of the Bayelsa Speaker and others, has been received by the CP, special fraud unit.
She however declined to confirm to our Correspondent when SFU received the DPP advice and when the prosecution shall commence. “I can’t say when we would start the prosecution, but we have the DPP advice and we are to contact the Bayelsa State DPP and jointly enforce the directive on the Speaker and others.”
Sources said, since the receipt of the DPP advice by the Commissioner of Police, Special Fraud Unit, there has been an uneasy calm in both SFU, in Lagos and Bayelsa State House of Assembly. “I do not know what the Police is waiting for, they now have the DPP advice they have been waiting for, proceed with the trial of the speaker, they are foot-dragging,” said a Lagos-based Lawyer and activist, Femi Falana, SAN.
Approval of the trio’s prosecution came after 10 months of investigation into allegations of misappropriation of government funds by the Special Fraud Unit of the Nigeria Police. A Civil Society group, Transparency and Good Governance Coalition (TGGC), had petitioned the Inspector General of Police to investigate the alleged misappropriation of N78 million approved by Governor Henry Seriake Dickson for the House of Assembly to attend the 43rd Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) meeting.
Checks indicated that after its completion of investigations, the SFU having established that the trio have case to answer, wrote a letter: CB3514/X/SFU/ Vol 1, dated November 7 to the office of Director of Public Prosecution of the Federation (DPPF) requesting for legal advice. The office of the DPPF having studied the case file forwarded a copy to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Bayelsa State Ministry of Justice based on the fact that the matter is within the jurisdiction of the office to take action.
A letter with reference number DPPF/ADVIL/92/2012 dated December 21 and signed by one E.K. Ugwu, an assistant director on behalf of the AGF, stated that the “offences as inferred on facts are conspiracy and fraudulent misappropriation and stealing by conversion of public funds under sections 516 and 383(2)(F) respectively, of the Criminal Code Act, Cap C 38, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004, applicable in Bayelsa State.”
According to the letter, “this office has found that there is a prima facie case of conspiracy and fraudulent misappropriation and stealing by conversion of public funds against the leadership of the present Bayelsa State House of Assembly to wit, Hon Konbowei Benson Friday (Speaker of the House), Hon Victor Otonye Sam- Ateki (Deputy Speaker of the House) and Mr Aaron Nicodemus Timiye (Clerk of the House, hereinafter referred to as 1st, 2nd and 11th suspects, respectively) under sections 516 and 383(2) (F) of the Criminal Code Act respectively, CAP 38 laws of the Federal of Nigeria 2004.”
The letter, which was received on December 27 by one Woyengife A.V., a state counsel at the Ministry of Justice, stated further: “that the said conference was meant for the House leadership and all other members were of observer status. In this regard, these other members, apart from the 1st, 2nd and 11th suspects, should be exonerated from the alleged offences as the House leadership was the brain behind the whole scenario. However, some other members of the House should be used as prosecution witnesses during the trial of the 1st, 2nd and 11th suspects in court.”
The office of the AGF while acknowledging that “a perusal of the case file reveals that N21,923,000 million has been refunded or paid back to the Bayelsa State Government’s treasury by both the House of Assembly generally, and by some individual members of the House from their share of the money”, added that “it is this office advice that the House leadership should make good the provision of the balance of N56.77 million as restitution to make up for the misappropriated and converted public funds and pay same back to the treasury of the Bayelsa State government as use of the money could not be justified to be in public interest.”
It maintained that the High Court in Bayelsa is the proper venue for the trial of the indicted persons since the offences were committed in Bayelsa State and the money misappropriated belonged to Bayelsa State government and not the Federal Government. Kiryamon in a media interview said the Speaker and the House are not aware of a letter written to the state’s ministry.
Meanwhile, effort to get the reaction of the Bayelsa State Speaker or the State Government’s comment in the entire episode was not successful as spokespersons to the two bodies said they cannot speak on such a “sensitive issue that borders on the two powerful” individuals in the State.
But a source who pleaded anonymity told Political Economist that, the State Governor is very much at home with the prosecution of the lawmakers. “If there is anything the Governor would want to see happen and happen fast, it is the prosecution of those indicted in the Police investigation over the misapplication of government money,” said a close aide to Gov. Dickson.