A coalition of 15 organisations and individuals has condemned the prosecution of Olanrewaju Suraju, executive director of the Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA), an anti-corruption organisation, by the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami.
Mr Malami’s office is prosecuting Mr Suraju for allegedly peddling falsehood against a former AGF, Mohammed Adoke.
The prosecution accused Mr Suraju of cyberstalking by allegedly circulating “fabricated email and audio files” to malign Adoke in respect of the Malabu scam case trial in Milan, Italy.
Mr Suraju was scheduled to be arraigned before Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday. But the proceedings were stalled due to the absence of the judge.
However, in a letter addressed to the AGF, Mr Malami, the groups said, “We are gravely concerned by the intended prosecution of Mr Suraju.”
They pointed out that the charges were filed against Mr Suraju in flagrant disobedience to a decision of the ECOWAS Court, which declared the cyberstalking law as a violation of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Nigeria is a signatory to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights which has since been domesticated as part of Nigerian laws.
“It is a fundamental right to report on court proceedings and the use of the Cybercrimes Act to criminalise those who exercise that right is alarming,” the organisations’ letter read in part.
It added, “We are also shocked that Nigeria should still be using the Act given the recent ruling by the ECOWAS court that the Act is unconstitutional and must be repealed.
“For Nigeria to ignore this ruling will send a regrettable signal that the current government does not respect international treaties to which it is a Party. Indeed, your own office has accepted that the Act needs amending.”
They advised the AGF to “reconsider the indictment of Mr Suraju,” adding that they would be “closely monitoring the progress of the case and will draw our concerns to the attention of our governments and international human rights bodies.”
Signatories to the letter include, Christian Mounzeo La Campagne au Congo of Congo-Brazzaville; Robert Rotberg, Vice-Chair, Integrity Initiatives International; Claudia Escobar, Executive Director, Be Just; Sarah Chayes, author, ‘Thieves of State: Why Corruption Threatens Global Security’; and Jodi Vittori, a professor and co-chair at Global Politics and Security, Georgetown University.
They also include Susan Hawley, the Executive Director Co-founder, Transparency International Spotlight on Corruption; Chairman, Partnership for Transparency Fund; Peter Lipman, Nigeria director, Anthropocene Actions CIC; Stanley Achonu of The One Campaign; and, Simon Taylor, co-founder & director, Global Witness.
Susan Hawley, executive director, Spotlight on Corruption; Frank Vogl, co-founder, Transparency International, and chairman, Partnership for Transparency Fund, Washington DC, U.S.; and Peter Lipman, director, Anthropocene Actions CIC.
Also on the list of signatories are, Stanley Achonu, Nigeria Director, The One Campaign; Carly Oboth, Executive Director, Publish What You Say; and Melissa Fourie, Executive Director, Centre for Environmental Rights.
The rest are, Luca Manes, Director, Re:Common; Nicholas Hildyard, Director, The Corner House; Simon Taylor of Co-Founder & Director, Forests Campaign; Susanne Breitkopf, Deputy Director, Forests Campaign Environmental Investigation Agency, Tijah Bolton-Akpan of Policy Alert, Nigeria, and Calvin Laing, member, Publish What You Pay, and Tijah Bolton-Akpan of Policy Alert, Nigeria.
The former AGF had petitioned the Nigerian police over the circulation of the audiotape and email which Mr Adoke said were forged to rope him into the Oil Prospecting Licence (OPL) 245 prosecution in Milan, Italy.
Mr Adoke’s petition to the police concerned the email and audiotape that featured in the transfer of about $1.1 billion by Shell and ENI through the Nigerian government to accounts controlled by a former Nigerian petroleum minister, Dan Etete.
Investigators and activists suspect Mr Etete bribed some top officials of the Goodluck Jonathan administration after Eni and Shell controversially acquired OPL 245, one of Nigeria’s richest oil blocks.
Mr Etete had awarded the block to his Malabu Oil and Gas Limited while serving as petroleum minister in the late Sani Abacha`s regime.
Mr Adoke was the AGF who advised the Goodluck Jonathan-led regime on the OPL 245 transactions at the time. His name has repeatedly featured in matters connected to the deal.
The Nigerian government did not benefit from the $1.1 billion transferred for the acquisition of the rich oil field.
It has, therefore, been part of civil and criminal cases in the U.K., Italy, and the U.S. in a bid to bring beneficiaries of the fraudulent transactions to book and to recover proceeds of the controversial deal from them.
The Milan court has acquitted Eni, Shell and their managers earlier indicted by Milan prosecutors in respect of the Malabu Oil scandal.
The EFCC had also accused Mr Adoke of accepting N300 million from Abubakar Aliyu, a controversial businessman and one of Mr Etete’s cronies through whom proceeds of the controversial Malabu deal were allegedly funnelled to government officials and others.
Mr Adoke had, however, denied any wrongdoing, saying his transaction with Mr Aliyu was a property purchase deal that fell through after he could not raise the monetary balance for the asset.
In a four-count charge filed at the Federal High Court in Abuja following police investigation, the AGF office accused Mr Suraju of allegedly circulating “fake email and audio interviews” about Mr Adoke on his social media handles.
Mr Suraju, who denied fabricating either the email or the audio interview, which featured in the Milan trial, accused Mr Adoke of defaming him by levelling the fabrication allegation against him in a February 2021 letter published in various media platforms.
The activist had said items he was accused of fabricating were exhibits tendered in the criminal case involving OPL 245 controversial deal, generally referred to as the Malabu Oil scam, in a Milan court in Italy.
READ ALSO: Malabu: Judge’s absence stalls HEDA chair, Suraju’s arraignment over alleged falsehood against Adoke
Mr Suraju, whose organisation has been providing support for Milan prosecutors, had also said the said email was used by the Nigerian government in its civil case against Chase Morgan Bank which played a role in the controversial $1.1 billion.
The Nigerian government, through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), is currently prosecuting Mr Adoke in connection with the controversial $1.1 billion Malabu Oil case in 2011.
In the charges filed by the Attorney-General of the Federation’s office and marked FHC/ABJ/CR/370/2021, Mr Adoke was listed as one of the four proposed witnesses to testify against Mr Suraju.
Mr Suraju had lodged a N100 million libel suit against Mr Adoke for allegedly defaming him with the claim of alleged fabrication.
The HEDA chair, who has denied any wrongdoing in a series of statements he issued on the matter, had said the items he was accused of fabricating featured as exhibits in the Malabu Oil scam trials in Milan, Italy.
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