The refusal of prosecution to tender statement made by Chairman of Zenon Oil and Gas Limited, Mr Femi Otedola, at the on-going trial of Mr Farouk Lawan, former chairman of the House of Reps Ad Hoc Committee on Fuel Subsidy Regime, has raised questions on the need for the prosecution to afford the accused opportunity to defend himself.
It is trite law that in criminal prosecution, the accused is presented with the entire document to be relied upon in prosecuting him, as the introduction of same mid-way into trial is seen as trial by ambush, which the apex court in a lot of authorities had condemned.
It will be recalled that Lawan had pleaded not guilty to the charges and had been granted bail by the trial judge, Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi, while further hearing was adjourned till April 10.
In most jurisdiction, by way of front loading, parties in civil or criminal matters are mandated to provide all documents, statement, exhibits or witnesses they intend to rely on forehand, so that parties are not taken unaware and to reduce the time wasted in court by litigants seeking an adjournment to reply to same, when they are introduced midway into trial.
But the Otedola’ statement, which formed the bedrock of the allegation against Lawan and Emenalo Boniface, the Secretary of the Committee, as it was based on his complaint that the duo are being prosecuted for offences of corruption, is curiously missing from the proof of evidence.
One may query, is it the prosecution’s view that tendering Otedola’s statement in court would cause irreparable damage to its case?
Interestingly, Otedola had been listed as one of the witnesses in the trial, though his statement is yet to be tendered in court, as same is also not in the proof of evidence.
Government had claimed that there were sting operation that nailed Lawan. Also operatives of Department of State Security, DSS, who were said to have carried out the sting operation, were also not listed as witnesses in the case, while the video clips from the sting operation has not been tendered in court.
It was gathered from a source, who took part in the investigation, that Otedola contradicted himself; hence the prosecution felt that his statement would not help its case and had refused to tender same.
It will be recalled that Lawan was the first to report the attempt to bribe members of the committee to security agencies and had reported the matter to the House committee on Narcotics and Financial Crimes.
The issue then is, what would anyone who wanted to collect bribe report the case to EFCC and the House Committee on Money Laundering? Could it also be the case that Otedola is the proper person to be prosecuted for initiating the bribery process?
Though one cannot be seen to be in support of corruption; it is however important to note that a lot of Nigerians, are beginning to feel that the Lawan’s case is a clear case of the executive may be trying to muzzle the House of Representatives.
Also to testify in Lawan’s case is Chairman of EFCC, Mr Ibrahim Lamorde, as he will testify that Lawan came to his office sometimes in April, 2012 and reported to him that there were some fuel marketers who wanted to bribe him.