Alleged fraudster and popular businessman, Fred Ajudua, on Friday defied a judge’s directive to take his plea over a $9 million (about N1.5 billion) fraud case instituted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
The Commission had preferred a 28 count amended charge before a Lagos High Court, Ikeja, against Mr. Ajudua, 52, for defrauding Ishaya Bamaiyi, a retired Lieutenant General, of the said sum while the duo were detained at the Kirikiri Maximum Prison.
Midway into Friday’s proceedings, Allen Agbaka, Mr. Ajudua’s counsel, dramatically withdrew from the case, citing his client’s instruction that Olalekan Ojo, his main lawyer, should lead his legal team.
But Oluwatoyin Ipaye, the trial judge, insisted that Mr. Agbaka remained the defence counsel on record for the day’s proceedings, adding that she would not wait for Mr. Ojo’s arrival.
When it was time to take his plea, Mr. Ajudua declined to respond to the charges in the absence of Mr. Ojo.
“My Lord, from now on, I will not take any plea again in respect of this case,” Mr. Ajudua told the judge.
The judge directed the court registrar to go ahead and read all the 28 counts to the defendant, to which Mr. Ajudua maintained silence.
Mrs. Ipaye further directed the registrar to enter a ‘Not guilty’ plea on behalf of the defendant for each of the counts.
She then adjourned till 14th and 15th January, 2015, for commencement of trial.
Earlier, Mr. Agbaka had moved an application challenging the court’s jurisdiction and praying that the charge be struck out.
“There are two applications dated the same date praying the court to quash counts 14- 28 amended information on lack of jurisdiction or in the alternative, the court should strike out the charge,” Mr. Agbaka said.
But Seidu Atteh, counsel to the EFCC, said the issue raised by the defence counsel had been resolved by a Court of Appeal ruling.
“My Lord, I don’t know why my learned friend is over-flogging this issue, Mr. Atteh said.
“The ruling of your Lordship on it has been upheld by the Court of Appeal ruling CA/L/693A/2014. So I want my Lord to look at this fact by refusing the applications because it is a waste of judicial time.”
The judge dismissed the defendants applications based on the appellate court’s ruling.
Apparently sensing that the hurdle had been cleared for his client’s re-arraignment, Mr. Agbaka announced his withdrawal and Mr. Ajudua’s preference for Mr. Ojo to take over the case.
A PRISONYARD DEAL
Mr. Ajudua was first arraigned in March this year on a 14 count charge of conspiracy and obtaining $6 million (about N1 billion) from Mr. Bamaiyi, a former Chief of Army Staff, under false pretences.
The defendant allegedly collected the money from Mr. Bamaiyi while the duo were in custody at Kirikiri Prison, Lagos.
Mr. Ajudua had pleaded not guilty to all the counts.
Between November 2004 and March 2005 while he was in custody at Kirikiri Prison, the EFCC said that Mr. Ajudua conspired with some prison inmates to defraud Mr. Bamaiyi, who was also in prison, of millions of dollars and naira.
The defendant’s accomplices – Alumile Adedeji (also known as Ade Bendel), Mr. Jonathan, Mr. Kenneth, and Princess Hamabon Williams – are still at large, according to the EFCC.
The defendant and his cohorts had approached Mr. Bamaiyi, who was facing trial for the attempted murder of Alex Ibru, the Publisher of The Guardian newspaper, and convinced him they could secure his freedom.
And then the transaction began, according to the anti-graft agency.
Mr. Bamaiyi first allegedly paid $330,000 to Mr. Ajudua as part payment for the professional fees purportedly charged by Afe Babalola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, to handle his case and facilitate his release from prison.
Other cash payments for Mr. Babalola’s services followed in quick succession – $1.5 million; $80,000; $500,000; $200,000; $500,000; $175,000; $50,000; $510,000; $450,000; $1.6 million; $2 million; and N1 million.
The EFCC said the funds were laundered through Abdullahi Garba, then Assistant Comptroller of Prisons; Garba Tagda; Lawal Danladi and others.
Last month, Justice Kudirat Jose of an Ikeja High Court discharged Mr. Ajudua from an alleged $1.69 million fraud case against two Dutch businessmen instituted by the EFCC.