N170 million contract ‘fraud’: Justice Ministry probes top official over Zinox Computers ‘ties’

Leonard Stanley Ekeh

The Federal Ministry of Justice says it has launched an investigation amid claims that one of its senior officials attempted to prevent the prosecution of Zinox Computers management over an alleged N170 million contract fraud.

The ministry said it was investigating alleged ties between Stella Anukam, its director of International and Comparative Law, and a law firm that filed a petition in connection with the case.

Mrs. Anukam is named as one of the lead partners of Integrity Law Firm, which sent the petition seen as capable of thwarting the case. Her role in the law firm violates public service rules barring government officials from private practice.

Zinox Computers is one of the firm’s clients, PREMIUM TIMES found.

The head of the Directorate of Public Prosecution, Mohammed Umar, told PREMIUM TIMES the ministry had commenced investigations into allegations against Mrs. Anukam.

The longwinded case began in 2012 over a N170.3 million contract awarded by the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS.

An Ibadan-based computer retail firm, Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, which said it won the offer, accused top officials of Zinox Group, including the Chairman, Leonard Stanley Ekeh, and wife, Chioma, of impersonating it and illegally taking over the contract.

Other accused persons include the Company Secretary/Legal Adviser, Zinox Group and Technology Distribution, TD, Chris Ozims, and a director of TD, Folashade Oyebode; the chief executive of Ad’mas Digital Technologies Limited and Pirovics Engineering Services Limited, Onny Igbokwe, along with one Princess O. Kama.

Two staff of Access Bank Plc, Obilo Onuoha and Deborah Ijeabu, were also identified.

Although investigations into the matter were completed by the Special Fraud Unit, SFU, of the Nigerian Police Force in 2014 and a case established against the suspects, prosecution stalled after police refused to release the case file.

Several requests by the then Director of Public Prosecution, DPP, Mohammed Diri, to the police to release the case file were ignored, police and government officials involved in the case told PREMIUM TIMES.

Twist after twist

On June 16, 2016, police curiously charged the complainant and managing director of Citadel Oracle, Joseph Benjamin, to court, accusing him of providing false information in his petition to the police against the suspects.

Following Mr. Benjamin’s petition, the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami, directed the DPP to take over the case to avoid miscarriage of justice.

Based on the directive, a senior counsel from the Ministry of Justice, Aniekan Ekong, appeared at the Federal High Court, Apo on December 7, 2016 and announced the formal take-over of the case. He also asked the police to hand off the case and transfer the case file to the DPP for the prosecution of the accused.

However, at the resumed hearing of the court on February 28, the police presented a letter signed by the DPP, Mr. Umar, upturning the Attorney-General’s order and reinstating the police to continue the trial.

On Friday, Mr. Umar, confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that he wrote the letter reinstating the police on the instruction of the Attorney-General.

He said the Attorney General changed his mind following a petition by the Abuja-based law firm, Integrity Law Firm, which claimed that its client, the police, had an ongoing case against Mr. Benjamin.

A new petition by Citadel Oracle to the Attorney-General, accused Mrs. Anukam, a partner in the law firm, of being responsible for the reversal.

The petition, dated April 11, by counsel to the company, Udah, Bala, James & Partners, also said Mrs. Anukam was working as an insider to “truncate” case.

When PREMIUM TIMES visited Mrs. Anukam’s office on the 5th floor of the Federal Ministry of Justice to seek her reaction to the allegations, an aide, who refused to give his name, said she was not available.

When this paper explained the purpose of the visit, the aide referred it to the ministry’s press office. That office was locked.

But at the DPP’s office, the director, Mr. Umar, told PREMIUM TIMES on Friday, the ministry had commenced investigations into the issues raised in the petition against Mrs. Anukam.

Mr. Umar said after preliminary findings, Mrs. Anukam would be asked to offer explanations on those issues if found to be credible, to allow management take its decision.

Conflict of interest?

A background check by PREMIUM TIMES showed that Mrs. Anukam, a 1984 law graduate, was listed on Integrity Law Firm’s website as the lead partner and management team member of the firm.

Curiously, hours after PREMIUM TIMES’ visit to Mrs. Anukam’s office on Friday, her profile and status on the Integrity Law Firm’s website were edited, making her “an external consultant” for the company.

A review of the Integrity Law Firm’s list of clients on the company’s website also showed Zinox Technologies Limited and Technology Distribution Limited, two companies suspected to have been involved in the N170 million contract scam, conspicuously listed. The company’s clientele also included the Federal Ministry of Justice.

Also, company status report obtained by this newspaper from the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, showed that Integrity Law Firm, with No. BN985788 and office address at ‘Plot 472, Adetokunbo (Way) Wuse 2, Abuja, was registered as a business name on March 13, 2002, with Innocent Eremionkhale as its proprietor.

PREMIUM TIMES confirmed that Mr. Eremionkhale, a 1999 law graduate of the Edo State University (now Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma), is Mrs. Anukam’s younger brother.

Federal public service rules prohibits workers from engaging in private practice.

Chapter 3, No. 030425 of the Federal Government Public Service Rules (2008 edition) states: “In accordance with the provisions of the Regulated and other Professions Private Practice Prohibition Act (Cap. 390) Part II, no officer shall engage in private practice.”

Similarly, Rule No. 030430 of the same Chapter states: “No officer shall undertake any private agency in any matter connected with the exercise of his/her public duties.”

Part 1, paragraph 1 of the Code of Conduct for Public Officers listed in the Fifth Schedule of the 1999 Constitution as amended also says “A public officer shall not put himself in a position where his personal interest conflicts with his duties and responsibilities.”

Contract fraud

On the prosecution of the N170 million fraud case, the DPP said the ministry was committed to pursuing it to its logical conclusion.

“We are ready to do our job. But more attention should be focused on the police to play its part, by producing the case file. Otherwise, there is little we can do. Since I assumed office, I have written to the Inspector General of Police three times requesting the case file without any response,” Mr. Umar said.

The chairman of the Special Investigation Panel, SIP, Ali Amodu, a retired Assistant Inspector General of police, told this newspaper on Friday the current police authorities were worried by the way the case was being handled.

The SIP was constituted by the current Inspector General of Police, Ibrahim Idris, to review police investigations with the potential of a miscarriage of justice.

“The police authorities are not very happy about the whole situation and has asked the investigation officer to show prove of what he has been investigating, particularly how the complainant in the case ended up being charged for allegedly giving false information and the people accused of involvement in the fraud.

“I have already requested the investigation officer to fish out all the relevant documents relating to the case, including the legal advice that recommended the prosecution of the complainant, while the accused are allowed to walk about free.

“The police will not allow anything to lie low. We must get to the bottom of the matter and ensure justice is not miscarried,” Mr. Amodu said.

Mr. Benjamin said he was against attempts at an out-of-court settlement of the case.

“Our cry is for justice,” he told PREMIUM TIMES. “I am ready to die if need be. All what I want is justice. Let this case be a test and a challenge to the Federal Government’s sincerity about its commitment to fight corruption without fear or favour.”

“The investigation by the EFCC into the case ordered by the Vice President last year has been stalled. I have spent several millions, and risked my life and personal safety to be travelling to Abuja and Lagos to attend court cases, to defend myself over a matter I am innocent of. Yet, the real culprits are walking the streets free.”

The case comes up in an Abuja court on Thursday.


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