FABIAN OSUJI DISCHARGED AND ACQUITTED

After almost 15 years of legal battle, moral torture and social stigmatization for alleged offence of offering bribe to National Assembly members for easy budget passage in 2005, an Abuja High Court pronounces former Minister of Education, Professor Fabian Osuji, not guilty as charged.

By Tobs Agbaegbu

It was a long walk to freedom for Fabian Osuji, a Professor and former Minister of Education. Nearly 15 years after being arraigned in court  for alleged gratification to education committee members of the National Assembly ,in 2005, to facilitate passage of the year 2005 budget of the Federal Ministry of Education, Osuji has  now been found not guilty of  the alleged offences.  Osuji, was discharged and acquitted of the alleged offences, October 23, 2019, by Justice Samirah Umar Bature, Judge of High Court 4 of the Federal Capital Territory in Abuja.

By that historic judgement, Osuji happily joins Adolphus Wabara, former Senate President and others who were earlier this year, also discharged and acquainted by Justice S.E. Alade Toyinbo, now retired, who was handling the matter before Justice Bature took over.  Osuji and Wabara were arraigned in court by the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission, ICPC following a nationwide television broadcast by the then President,Olusegun Obasanjo, accusing of  conspiracy to commit the offences.

Seven others arraigned with Osuji when the matter started were Senator Adolphus Ndaneweh Wabara ,Senator Ibrahim Abdulazeez ,

Senator John Azuta Mbata , Senator Emmanuel Okpede ,  Senator Badamasi Maccido  and Honourable Dr. Garba Shehu Matazu

The long legal battle, seeking to convict Osuji , Wabara  and others ,which stretched from the High Court, through Court of Appeal,to the Supreme Court and back to where it started, has now come to an end.   Justice Bature  gave the killer punch in her landmark judgement which  confined the matter brought by the ICPC to the dust bean of  history, of failed prosecution case.

 Justice Bature said: “I align myself with the reasoning of my learned brother C.E. Alade Toyinbo J (now retired) as evidenced in exhibit C attached to this application, that withdrawal of a charge under section 355 is tantamount to an acquittal. I so hold.

‘’Therefore, the Applicant herein, Professor Fabian Osuji (listed as the 5th Defendant in this case with No: FCT/HC/CR/31/2005 is hereby acquitted and discharged under section 355 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015. No order as to cost.’’

The final legal process leading to victory for Osuji  started when Callistus Amadi, Counsel to Osuji filed an application before the court on September 5, 2019. In the application, Amadi made two prayers, the first being, for an order of the court quashing the charge against the defendant/applicant (Prof. Fabian Osuji), in line with the ruling of the Honourable Court delivered on 21st of January 2019 by Rtd Hon. Justice S.E. Alade Toyinbo.  Amadi also further asked for further order or orders as the court may deem fit to make in the circumstances of the matter. The application was grated. 

Signs were clear when the matter started on 11th day of April 2005 that ICPC may not be able to succeed in their job. First, the prosecution displayed bias when some alleged participants in the deal were excluded in the list of accused persons presented for prosecution. Dr. Chris Adighije, a senator, one of the names cited by President Olusegun Obasanjo in the alleged scam was not brought to court. Prof. Peter Okebukola, the Executive Secretary of the National Universities Commission (NUC), who allegedly raised N20 million for the alleged bribe was not also arraigned in court.

Three other developments also created bottlenecks for the prosecution team. One was the ruling of the Court of Appeal, which in the judgment by Justice Mary Peter-Odili, had held that the criminal charges were frivolous, baseless and lacking in merit. The Appeal Court also declared that the charge disclosed no prima facie, and so could not be sustained by the ICPC. Soon after,   In February 2013, the Supreme Court in a judgement read by Justice Rhodes-Vivour remitted the case back to the trial court, the starting point of prosecution,  to be heard expeditiously. Also three of the accused persons–Senator Badamasi Maccido, Senator Emmanuel Okpede and one other–died during the trial and their names were struck off the charge sheet at a time.

This is in addition to one issue which came to public light: the ICPC which initiated the prosecution process in 2005 from where it moved through the Court of Appeal in Abuja, to the Supreme Court later failed, as the processes progressed, to provide needed witnesses, and indeed set in motion, processes to discontinue prosecution.

 On the strength of the inability of ICPC to proceed with the matter, Wabara and Senators Ibrahim Abdulazeez and John Azuta Mbata , on 21st of January 2019, approached  Hon. Justice S.E. Alade Toyinbo who was then handling the matter, to strike it out and return a  ‘discharged and acquitted’ verdict. Their request was granted by the then trial judge, but the name of Professor Osuji who was outside the country then, was not specifically mentioned as beneficiary of the judgment, even as judicial pundits posited that it was implied .

On account of the seeming ambiguity in interpretation of the wider implication of the judgement of Justice Toyinbo as it affects osuji and others who were not specifically mentioned, Amadi, Counsel to Osuji filed an application before the court on September 5, 2019.

The application was grated.  In her ruling, Justice Bature said: “I align myself with the reasoning of my learned brother C.E. Alade Toyinbo J (now retired) as evidenced in exhibit C attached to this application, that withdrawal of a charge under section 355 is tantamount to an acquittal. I so hold.

‘’Therefore, the Applicant herein, Professor Fabian Osuji (listed as the 5th Defendant in this case with No: FCT/HC/CR/31/2005 is hereby acquitted and discharged under section 355 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015. No order as to cost.’’

The reasons, for striking out of the ICPC case was tied to the  earlier judgement in favour of Wabara and others. The others were Senators Ibrahim Abdulazeez and John Azuta Mbata.

S.E Aladetoyinbo, the Presiding Judge while delivering judgement on the matter involving Wabara and others, said the prosecution could not raise witnesses to prosecute the case. He, therefore, discharged the defendants under section 355 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015.

The Act states as follows: “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.”

The Judge said: “Since the prosecutor claimed that the witnesses are no more available and this matter had been pending since 2005, the court will grant the request of defence counsel. The three Defendants are hereby discharged and acquitted under Section 355 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015.”

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