An Ikeja High Court on Tuesday closed the case of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against an oil marketer, Mamman Ali, charged with N4.4 billion fuel subsidy fraud.
Justice Adeniyi Onigbanjo ordered the closure of the case for what he called lack of diligent prosecution by the EFCC.
Mamman, the son of one-time senator, Dr Ahmadu Ali, was charged alongside two other marketers – Christian Taylor and Oluwaseun Ogunbambo, and their company, Nassaman Oil Services Ltd.
The defendants are facing a 13-count charge bordering on conspiracy, obtaining money under false pretences, forgery, altering and use of forged documents.
At the resumed hearing of the case on Tuesday, the EFCC’s counsel, Mr Seidu Atteh, informed the court that he had recently taken over the case following the elevation of the former prosecutor, Mr Francis Usani.
Atteh said he was informed that the fourth defendant (Ogunbambo) had absconded and that the court had issued a bench warrant for his arrest.
“My Lord, I am pleading for a short adjournment to enable us to produce him or for us to amend the charge and proceed with the defendants who are present,” he said.
However, Counsel to Ali and Taylor, Mr Toyin Pinheiro (SAN), opposed the application for adjournment, saying Ogunbambo’s absence ought not to have hindered the continuation of the matter.
Pinheiro said: “This matter commenced since July 2012; the prosecution listed 15 witnesses in the proof of evidence and they have only called two witnesses.”
He said the EFCC should have done the “needful’’ by amending the charge so that the case could continue since they were aware that Ogunbambo had absconded.
“I think the court has an inherent power to close their case.
“Section 36 of the Constitution talks about fair hearing which also connotes conclusion of the trial against an accused within a reasonable time.
“My humble application is for the court to close the case of the prosecution and we are ready to open our defence,” Pinheiro said.
In a short ruling, the judge said the court had a duty to conduct its activities in a timely manner.
Onigbanjo said the EFCC could have amended the charge against the other defendants since the last adjournment in February following their inability to apprehend Ogunbambo.
According to him, the court record shows that the EFCC has not shown enough seriousness to go on with the trial of the other defendants.
“You cannot hold one defendant to a disadvantage because of a situation caused by another defendant.”
The judge said the EFCC could still file an application to reopen the matter before the next adjournment if they were able to arrest the wanted oil marketer.
In the alternative, he said, the court would also consider their application to amend the charge and strike out Ogunbambo’s name.
The judge consequently adjourned the case to July 14 for tentative opening of Ali’s defence.