The Nigeria Football Federation has explained Tuesday’s suspension of the trial involving its President, Amaju Pinnick, and four others by an Abuja Division of the Federal High Court.
In a statement on the court decision on Tuesday, the NFF said the Nigerian government withdrew the charges “because the proof of evidence could not sustain the charge.”
It added that the decision of the court following the federal government’s withdrawal of its case was to “discharge and acquit the defendants.”
“On Tuesday, Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu dismissed the entire case with all 16 charges, and acquitted the NFF chieftains in consideration of the submission of the defence and the prosecution and in line with the rules of administration of criminal justice,” the NFF said.
“The judge then ruled that in view of these facts, she had no option than to discharge and acquit the defendants on all counts, wondering why the case was brought to the court in the first place,” the football federation added in its statement sent to PREMIUM TIMES by the NFF communication department on Tuesday.
The NFF said the report by the Special Presidential Investigation Panel, after a review of the allegations against the defendant, dated April 30 and submitted to the court, had cleared the defendants.
“A review of the certified true copy of the NFF Bank account with the Central Bank of Nigeria found that there was no transaction of N4 billion or any amount whatsoever on November 3, 2018 as alleged in the charges filed by SPIP. It was also found that the total inflow into the said NFF account for the whole of 2018 is far less than N1billion, confirming that the alleged N4billion never existed anywhere in the first instance,” the statement added.
The statement reiterated an argument by the defence team in the matter that the trial is a product of witch-hunt by candidates defeated by Mr Pinnick and his team of football officials at the NFF elections.
How they were arraigned
The federal government had in May arraigned Mr Pinnick and four others on allegations they diverted $8.45 million, which was given to the NFF as fees for appearing at the last Russia 2018 World Cup.
The five officials, including the NFF Secretary, Sunusi Mohammed; the 1st Vice-President, Seyi Akinwumi; the 2nd Vice-President, Shehu Dikko and an Executive member, Yusuff Fresh, were also accused of misappropriating N4 billion without the approval of the NFF.
They were also alleged to have contravened the law by failing to declare their assets.
But following an application to withdraw the charges on Tuesday, the court presided over by Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu struck out the case, based on the provisions of section 355 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, a lawyer for the defence team, Mohammed Katu, told journalists after the hearing.
The section provides that: “Where a complainant at any time before a final order is made in a case, satisfies the court that there are sufficient grounds for permitting him to withdraw his complaint, the court may permit him to withdraw the complaint and shall thereupon acquit the defendant”
In its communique, the NFF described the decision of the court as a clean bill issued to its president and the other defendants.
The statement included further explanation by the defence lawyer, Mr Katu on what transpired in court.
“Defence Counsel, Barrister Sani Katu, put the issues in perspective: “The matter was adjourned till today to allow time for investigation as to whether the defendants should be arraigned or not by the Office of the Attorney General which had taken over the matter. The Office of the Attorney General went and investigated the matter and discovered that the proof of evidence could not sustain the charges. On that basis, the Office of the AGF applied to withdraw the charges and the consequence is that the defendants should be discharged and acquitted from all 16 charges, to which the court agreed.”
The NFF in its statement also explained that the office of the Attorney General of the Federation had requested to take over a similar prosecution of the defendants by anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
“Only last month, a motion by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC to remove the names of Pinnick and Sanusi from the witnesses’ category and add them to the list of accused persons in a case at the FCT High Court over the same $8.4million FIFA Grant was put on hold after the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation submitted that it was taking over the case with a view to ascertaining its validity, seeing that same persons were being charged spuriously in different courts and/or investigated by several agencies over the same allegations hewed out of petitions by the same individuals.”
Mr Pinnick and his co-accused were arraigned by the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPIP).
The panel, then led by Okoi Obono-Obla, has since been dissolved by President Muhammadu Buhari. Mr Obono-Obla is himself wanted for allegedly forging a WAEC certificate.