The Acting President, Yemi Osinbajo, has waded into allegations that a top Federal Ministry of Justice official is trying to prevent the prosecution of some Zinox Computers management staff over an alleged N170.3 million contract fraud.
The Managing Director, Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, Joseph Benjamin, had petitioned the acting president on April 11 to demand the investigation of the ministry’s director, International and Comparative Law, Stella Anukam, over allegations that she abused her office by using her position to obstruct justice against the Zinox staff.
The petition had also called for the probe of a law firm, Integrity Law Firm, which acted as legal counsel to Zinox Computers and its accused top staff.
The law firm had always paraded Mrs. Anukam as its lead partner until recently when her name was yanked off from the company website and other official documents after PREMIUM TIMES report blew the lead on the illegality of her involvement in private practice while remaining as a public official.
Mr. Osinbajo in a letter No. SH/OVP/DCOS/LGR&C/Misc./ of July 10, 2017 acknowledged the receipt of the petition by Mr. Benjamin’s counsel, Onyemaechi Bob James Esq., saying he had since forwarded it to the “appropriate authority for necessary action.”
The letter signed on his behalf by a deputy Chief of Staff to the President, Office of the Vice-President, Ade Ipaye, did not, however, state which “appropriate authority” the acting President referred to.
The acting president’s response is coming months after a similar petition was sent to the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, Abubakar Malami; Solicitor General of the Federation, Taiwo Abidogun, and Director of Public Prosecution, Mohammed Umar.
Mr. Abidogun did not acknowledge receipt of the petition, PREMIUM TIMES learnt. But, Mr. Umar, who did verbally, later refused to entertain further enquiries on the issue.
When PREMIUM TIMES contacted Mr. Malami on May 4, 2017 to get an update on the petition, he responded with a terse text message: “Investigation is ongoing, but not concluded.”
On June 21, he confirmed that the report was ready and asked the reporter to contact him later for details of the findings.
Since then, Mr. Malami has neither picked several calls to his phone nor responded to text messages sent to him on the issue.
After a long wait without response to his clients’ petition, Mr. Benjamin’s lawyers, Udah, Bala, James & Partners told PREMIUM TIMES, that a letter, dated August 2, 2017, was sent to the minister, to remind him about petitions sent on April 11 and May 9, 2017.
The petitions had drawn the minister’s attention to alleged attempts by Mrs. Anukam and her younger brother, Innocent Eremionkhale, a lawyer, to destroy key investigation evidence in the case against them.
Afraid the Justice Ministry may be shielding their staff from prosecution, the law firm said it also wrote to the Office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation and the Chairman, Federal Civil Service Commission, FCSC on July 26 requesting them to investigate Mrs. Anukam for alleged gross abuse of office.
More than a week later, none of the offices has so far acknowledged receipt of the petitions.
Mr. Benjamin had accused Mrs. Anukam of using her position to obstruct the prosecution of Zinox Group Chairman, Leonard Ekeh, and wife, Chioma, over alleged impersonation and illegally taking over of a N170.3 million contract awarded his company.
The Zinox owners have denied any wrongdoing.
The contract was awarded by the Federal Inland Revenue Service, FIRS in 2012 to Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, an Ibadan-based ICT firm,
Other officials named in the scandal included the Company Secretary/Legal Adviser, Zinox Group and Technology Distribution, TD, Chris Ozims, and a director of TD, Folashade Oyebode.
They were accused of committing the crime along with their allies, namely the chief executive of Ad’mas Digital Technologies Limited and Pirovics Engineering Services Limited, Onny Igbokwe, one Princess O. Kama and two staff of Access Bank Plc, Obilo Onuoha and Deborah Ijeabu.
Although investigations into the fraud by the Special Fraud Unit, SFU, of the Nigerian Police Force were concluded in 2014 and a case established against the suspects, prosecution stalled, as the police refused to release the case file to the director of public prosecution, DPP.
On June 16, 2016, Mr. Benjamin, the complainant, was charged to court by the police, on the orders of the former Inspector General of Police, IGP, Solomon Arase. He was accused of providing false information in his petition to the police against the suspects.
In a dramatic twist, the accused persons were now listed by the police as witnesses against him.
Mr. Benjamin later petitioned Mr. Malami, who directed Mr. Umar to take over the prosecution of the case by the police to avoid a miscarriage of justice.
On December 7, 2016, the DPP took over the case and asked the police to hands off the prosecution and transfer the case file to it, as directed by the AGF.
Surprisingly, on February 28, 2017, at the resumed hearing of the case, the police presented a letter purportedly signed by Mr. Umar, upturning the AGF’s earlier directive, reinstating the police to continue the trial.
Mr. Umar later confirmed he wrote the controversial letter reinstating the police, but on AGF’s instructions, following a petition by Integrity Law Firm, which claimed its client, the police, had a case pending against Mr. Benjamin.
On April 11, 2017, Mr. Benjamin, in a petition to the AGF, through his lawyers, accused Mrs. Anukam of working with the brother, Mr. Eremionkhale, to “truncate” the case.
A background check by PREMIUM TIMES revealed that Mrs. Anukam was listed as a lead partner and management team member on Integrity Law Firm’s website, a development that violates public service rules barring government officials from private practice.
Curiously, shortly after this newspaper published its findings about Mrs. Anukam, her profile on the law firm’s website was edited. Her previous status as ‘lead partner’ in the company had been changed to “an external consultant.”
Again, when the alterations were highlighted in a subsequent report, the profile was completely removed from the website, along with that of a FCT Customary Court Judge, Femi Odeahan.
Since then, all data on the law firm’s website linking Mrs. Anukam to the ownership of the law firm have been removed.
Mrs. Anukam’s brother, Innocent, has since joined Zinox to sue PREMIUM TIMES, claiming defamation.
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