The circumstances surrounding the withdrawal of government-hired prosecutor, Charles Adeogun-Phillips, in the case involving Justice Sylvester Ngwuta is throwing up smelly details in the on-going anti-corruption war in the judiciary.
It all began on Thursday with Adeogun-Phillips informing Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High Court Abuja that he was no longer keen on leading the prosecution in Justice Ngwuta’s alleged N500million money laundering case.
Though no clear reasons were offered by the former prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, speculations were rife that his act was allegedly in response to Federal Government’s withdrawal of N2.2bn fraud charges against the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Ahmed Saleh and two others.
Adeogun- Phillips, who was also the lead prosecutor in the Saleh trial had been absent in court when the office of the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF) mandated Hajara Yusuf, another prosecutor to withdraw the case on Tuesday.
The AGF, Abubakar Malami, however, on Sunday raised further dust on the Justice Ngwuta trial when he fired back at Adeogun-Phillips claiming that, contrary to earlier reports, the latter did not withdraw but had been fired from his post for “unprofessional conduct.”
In a statement credited to him on Sunday, Malami was quoted to have said, “Contrary to (the) impression given by Charles Adeogun-Phillips, the lead prosecutor in the suit against Supreme Court judge, Justice Sylvester Nwali Ngwuta, in various reports suggesting that he withdrew from the case on his own volition, the National Prosecution Coordination Committee that engaged his services actually withdrew the fiat issued to him to prosecute the case — over non-disclosure of conflict of interests and for other sundry reasons.”
He also said that, “The reports in a section of the media last Friday that he left in protest due to last week Tuesday’s dropping of charges earlier instituted against the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Ahmed Gambo Saleh, and two other officials of the apex court, Muhammad Abdulrahman Sharif and Rilwanu Lawal, which he is also handling for the Federal Government, cannot be relied upon.”
“The insinuation that the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation withdrew the case against the three Supreme Court officials because they are northerners is also unwarranted due to the fact that the dropping of the suit was done in good faith and in the context of plea bargaining to achieve greater goals in the prosecution of the other bigger cases that are ongoing against Justice Sylvester Ngwuta, among others,” he claimed.
The statement which was authored by Malami’s Special Adviser on Media and Publicity, Mr. Salihu Isah, further added that, “it is wicked and childish for anyone to allude to undue colouration to an action taken in national interest and reduce it to a North/South thing with a view to confuse the discerning public.”
“This is not the first time such process will be entered into in law, especially so as the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015 allows plea bargaining in line with national interest,” Malami said.
But Adeogun-Phillips, who would not allow himself to be a sitting-duck, has quickly countered allegations of unprofessional conduct levied against him.
Reacting also on Sunday, he said, “My involvement with the government commenced only in October 2016 and has been limited to the cases of judicial officers and I am not aware of any judicial officer that I have represented against the government since then, so where is the conflict?
“Assuming without conceding that the issue of conflict had, in fact, arisen in this case, why then did they wait until February 2017, after I challenged the withdrawal of the charges against the Court Administrators, to raise the issue of conflict in the media?”
Sources familiar with the development, however, say that the real contentions in the matter of the face-off between Adeogun-Phillips and the AGF is the alleged underground move to appoint the accused Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Ahmed Saleh, as the Executive Secretary of the National Judicial Council.
Adeogun-Phillips claims that his travails are largely tied to his insistence that Saleh must be brought to justice while the AGF, Malawi, wants the latter to adopt plea-bargain and be used as a witness against Justice Sylvester Ngwuta.
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