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Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bankole boasts of his trials

Why Bankole is not worried about his trial.
Shortly after he was granted bail under what has been described as "stringent conditions", the former speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, boasted that no court in Nigeria could convict him
on any of the charges brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
The statement, as reported in the press under variations of the headline, "No court can try me" shocked many, although it was no more than what his lawyers had told the court in their submission: "No court has jurisdiction to try or subject him to jurisdiction in all matters which are related to, connected with, or arose from any exercise of his official functions."

Now, friends and relations who have been visiting the Asokoro home of the former speaker since his bail came through are beginning to understand the nature of that claim, and the reason it was made. A constantly buoyant Mr Bankole has been reassuring them not so much of his innocence, but of his ability to beat the rather hastily-prepared case of breach of trust and theft filed against him by the EFCC.

A recent visitor to the house, a former Reps member who prefers not to be named, said, "Bankole was a revelation. I think he had a strategy from day one and no one knew it." NEXT learnt that although the former speaker is defended by half a dozen lawyers, all Senior Advocates of Nigeria, his optimism is driven by less obvious factors. "The young man set up a system whereby he was never directly involved in the signing of cheques," said our source, who spent over an hour discussing the case with the former speaker.

Mr Bankole reportedly disclosed that he never signed cheques for money to be used for official purposes during his tenure, but left that in the hands of aides in his office who are staff of the National Assembly.

Our source said Mr Bankole told him that there was no way anyone could find the evidence to nail him on those 17 charges.

"He had been more careful than many thought," said the former colleague. "He said there is nothing, no financial transaction, that has his name or signature appended to it."

The case proves tough

Our sources revealed that investigators were stumped quite early by the absence of the kind of evidence required to successfully prosecute such a high profile case. Although the National Assembly made thousands of documents available to them, they seemed unable to build the kind of case they wanted.

Mr Bankole had noted in his submission to the court that, "No evidence contained or shown in the evidence placed before the court warrants the inference or conclusion that he was at any time entrusted with the House of Reps account no: 0039007000018 with the UBA as alleged in counts 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 of the charges."

This controversial account, where the illegal transactions allegedly took place, appeared to have no record of any cheque drawn under Mr Bankole's signature, said a source close to the investigation.

Some lawyers say although it will be difficult for the former speaker to convince the court that he was never aware of those transactions, the prosecution will have a hard time proving he gave direct instructions for those monies to be withdrawn.

Mr Bankole's lawyers, like their client, are banking on this.

"I am not a signatory to the House of Reps account. I don't know the signatories to the House of Reps account," Mr Bankole told the court, and he probably was not lying.

Another major defence position is the decision of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to use a private prosecutor, albeit one who had previous relationship with the case, as a prosecuting counsel. Festus Keyamo had, in 2008, petitioned Mr Bankole regarding alleged fraud in the House and not satisfied with the response, wrote the EFCC over the matter of 380 cars purchased at exorbitant rates.

This has echoes of the Kenny Martins and the Police Equipment Fund case, in which Mr Keyamo got a fiat from the Attorney General to prosecute the case on behalf of the Commission. In that instance, a federal high court in Abuja, presided over by Adamu Bello, struck out the fiat issued to Mr Keyamo on the grounds that he was "not a neutral party in the case" since he was the same person that wrote a petition against Mr Martins to the EFCC in the first place.

"I am not ready to preside over a criminal case where the accused feels that he was been persecuted rather than being prosecuted," he said.

When the case came up for hearing, Mr Keyamo announced his withdrawal from the matter and the case was struck out.

Mohammed Adoke, Attorney General of the Federation agreed that it was an odd situation.

"He wrote the petition, he got the fiat and then he was prosecuting for free. It betrays all known sense of decency," Mr Adoke said.

Mr Bankole is hoping for the same outcome in his case, especially since this time Mr Keyamo didn't seem to have had the consent of the attorney general.

"EFCC has neither statutory nor constitutional power to issue authority to a private prosecutor; to prosecute offences created by or under the Penal Code Act in any court of law without the fiat of the Attorney General of the Federation first being sought and obtained and usage of the powers as a vindictive weapon against the applicant," said Mr Bankole's lawyers.

A Siamese relationship

Much has been made about the quarrel between senior management officials of the National Assembly and the former speaker. In his submission, Mr Bankole consistently claimed that he was not the accounting officer of the House.

In their defence, about half a dozen senior staff of the Assembly have reportedly told investigators that they had no power to authorise the kind of withdrawals that have been made.

"The approval limit of the management is that of ministerial tenders board for N50 million only. Anything above that goes to the body of principal officers," said one of the officials.

The prosecutor intends to use some of the National Assembly staff to give evidence against the former speaker.

Yet, rather than have an antagonistic relationship, senior management staff of the assembly and the speaker reportedly had a cosy affair. The former speaker's tactics of leaving the signing of checks in the hands of civil servants appealed to the assembly management.

When investigators called the clerk of the national assembly to demand for documents to be used in filing their case against the former speaker, Mr Bankole was told immediately. He reportedly gave the go-ahead, convinced that the EFCC really had no evidence with which to nail him. Two months later, and despite all the legal rigmarole, Mr Bankole has told friends that he was more convinced than ever that he would walk free.

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