Talking Drums

The West African News Magazine

Release of Shagari and Ekwueme

The Justice Uwaifo panel has cleared the former civilian President, Alhaji Shehu Shagari, and his deputy, Dr Alex Ekwueme, of the allegations made against them. The panel therefore recommended their urgent release from detention, and that all civil and private liberties due to any free man in this country be restored to them, as well as to their families and retinues.

In respect of Alhaji Shehu Shagari, the panel stressed that investigations carried out by the police show that the only asset acquired by him during his presidency was a four bedroom house in Zaria, which was for his wife Aishatu. The panel said that there was no evidence that the house is built with funds outside his legitimate earnings, or that the bungalow was of any extraordinary quality beyond the honest earnings of Alhaji Shagari. The panel also found that the lodgement in Alhaji Shagari's bank account was from his salaries.

On the Presidential Task Force on Rice, Mr Justice Uwaifo said that the former President set up the force to alleviate the sufferings of the ordinary man in obtaining rice which at that time had become a scarce commodity. The panel found that although the method on implementation was hopelessly deficient and lacked adequate supervision, the aim of the former President was achieved because the price of rice fell from 100 naira to 45 naira a bag.

In respect of Dr Alex Ekwueme, the panel found that the former Vice President was a wealthy man before he went into politics and that he came out of politics poorer. On the allegations that Dr Ekwueme enriched the proscribed NPN (National Party of Nigeria), the panel said that he did not solicit the donation made by a contractor to the Anambra State wing of the party.

The panel recommended that efforts should be made by Nigeria to recover a debt of over 100m naira owed to her by Romania in connection with an arrangement for the exchange of Nigerian crude oil for Romanian agricultural equipment.

President Shagari was overthrown in a military coup which installed Gen Buhari as head of state. Gen Buhari was in turn removed last August by Gen Babangida.

Shehu Shagari, Alex Ekwueme cleared Part 1

Below is the full text of Mr Justice S.O. Uwaifo's panel VERDICT on the deposed President Shehu Shagari and his deputy Dr Alex Ekwueme. The verdict was signed by the panel members - S.O. Uwaifo, Mr E.O. Ugowa, Mr A. Jika Cletus Emein and Squadron Leader T. Dada.
The subject was the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria from 1st October 1979 to 31st December, 1983. He won election to that office on the platform. of the defunct National Party of Nigeria (NPN). It was on the said 31st December his civilian administration was toppled in a military coup d'etat which brought Major-General Muhammadu Buhari to power as Head of State. The subject and Dr Alex Ekwueme, who was the Vice- President, as well as several other persons were put in detention.

On August 27, 1985, the administration of Major-General Buhari was itself changed in a coup d'etat. Major-General Ibrahim Babangida then assumed office as President, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of Nigeria. He promised to restore fundamental human rights which had recently suffered severe set-backs in the country. As one measure towards fulfilling that promise, he released very many detainees.

But the subject and Dr Alex Ekwueme were not released. They have remained in detention for over two years now. This special panel was set up to investigate their cases as well as those of others if there are facts to lead to their prosecution, the confiscation of their properties, or whether they should be released.

In respect of the subject's case, evidence was led on his assets, bank account, the Presidential Task Force on Rice (PTF) and allegations of corrupt practice involving the award of a certain contract. We shall discuss them one after the other.

(i) Assets Declaration:

The subject duly completed assets declaration form in November 1979 soon after he assumed office as President. He completed another on 1st October, 1983, that is, at the beginning of his second term. From investigations carried out by Police, the only asset he acquired while in office was a 4-bedroom bungalow at Kwarbai in Zaria. It was built for his wife, Mrs Aishatu Shagari. There is no evidence that it was built with funds other than from legitimate sources. Although the value of the bungalow was not given there is also no evidence that it is of extraordinary quality and therefore beyond the honest means of the subject. We take it that it is an ordinary bungalow for a person of simple taste as the subject is described as a humble and simple man.

(ii) Bank Account:

The subject was shown to have an account with the Inte national Bank for West Africa Limited, Broad Street, Lagos. At the time he became President, the balance in that account was N19,888.10. As at 30th December, 1983, the balance read N62,804.74. The pattern of lodgements into that account throughout reflects a record of salary.

(iii) Presidential Task Force on rice (PTF):

Evidence of this was made available to the inquisitiveness of the special panel over the activities of the Presidential Task Force on rice (PTF). It was an issue regarded to be of great public interest. The prosecution had not averted to it. They felt no need for that as they thought nothing touched the subject in connection therewith. We however consider that it was worth calling evidence on it if only to inform the public properly.

There is evidence that the sum of N72,741,511.00 as of April, 1985 was still to be recovered from the various debtors to the PTF. Out of this amount, the sum of N41,594,254.00 is owing by the Nigerian National Supply Company Limited.

There is also evidence that during the Buhari administration, the Federal Ministry of Commerce was asked to take over the distribution of the four ship-loads of rice imported by the PTF. The said Ministry realised about N21 million from the sale of the rice. The PTF had collected about N14 million from some individuals and bodies for the allocation to them of rice. They were not allocated rice nor was their money refunded to them. We were told that the present government has approved the refund of the said N14 million to the said individuals and bodies.

The purpose of setting up the PTF by the subject when he was President was to alleviate the hardship of the ordinary people in obtaining rice which had become a popular food item. We note that the implementation was hopelessly deficient and lacked adequate supervision. But this appears to have continued even after the civilian government had been sacked as there have been a lot of complaints about the question of sale distribution of rice. The obvious lesson is that whether in civilian or military ad- ministration, those placed in charge of the implementation of government policy could act in a manner inimical to its aim.

When the subject was the President a written report was submitted to him by the Minister in charge of the PTF, Alhaji Umaru Dikko, giving the impression that all was well. It was not known that a lot had gone wrong until the military came to power. Under Section 5(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the President may exercise his executive powers through the Vice- President and Ministers of the Govern- ment or officers in the public service of the Federation. similarly, under Section 138(1), he may assign to the Vice- President or any Minister of the Government of the Federation responsibility for any business of the Federal Government, including the administration of any department of government.

Under Section 136(2), the President shall hold regular meetings with the Vice- President and all the Ministers of the Government of the Federation for the purpose of:-

(a) Determining the general direction of domestic and foreign policies of the Government of the Federation;

(b) Co-ordinating the activities of the President, the Vice-President and the Ministers of the Government of the Federation in the discharge of their executive responsibilities; and (c) Advising the President generally in the discharge of his executive functions with respect to which he is required by the Constitution to seek advice or act on the recommendation of any other person or body.

We like to note that the provisions above do not expect the President to function in a manner where money is expanded in furtherance of government policy like the PTF, as if he was an accountant or auditor. He is merely, in our view, required to be satisfied that the Task Force had been duly set up and that rice was being imported and distributed according to the policy to bring down the price of rice. The evidence is that the price of rice was brought down from N100.00 a bag to N45.00 at that time; and so, basically, that policy was accomplished at that point.

The purpose of setting up the PTF by the subject when he was President was to alleviate the hardship of the ordinary people in obtaining rice which had become a popular food item. We note that the implementation was hopelessly deficient and lacked adequate supervision.

(iv) Corrupt Practice in the Award of Contract: This is the real issue which the Special Panel had to consider with particular care as it affects the subject. There is evidence that while the subject was on tour to Kwara State during his electioneering campaign as a Presidential candidate for the 1979 elections, two gentlemen, officials of Fougerolle (Nigeria) Limited, were introduced to him by Chief Adisa Akinloye and Dr Olusola Saraki, members of the defunct NPN. The subject took leave of them to say his prayers. When he returned the gentlemen had left. He was then informed by his said two party men that the two officials had promised to donate N1 million to the National Party of Nigeria, provided they were assured of a contract for their company. The subject is said to have made it clear that he would not be a party to any donation offered on that condition.

One may wonder what the significance of this is. If such event took place, and there is no reason not to accept that it did as it was evidence adduced by the prosecution, then it shows that the subject had no objection to donations to his party. This is quite a normal and lawful source of funding for any political party in a democracy. But the subject would not accept if the donations came from con- tract price or in consideration for the award of contract. Consequently, those party members who knew and approved of any such so-called donations later arranged on the basis of a percentage of the contract price were likely to take all measures and resort to all subterfuges to keep that fact dark from the subject for fear that he would frustrate an arrangement.

It seems that from the evidence of the loan of N7 million which Dr Saraki was mandated to raise for the affairs of the NPN during the electioneering campaign, the subject would rather resort to a legitimate source of funding the said campaign and other party affairs. As to how such loan would be repaid, the evidence is that the subject expected wealthy members of the party to make contributions. It was admitted that there were many wealthy party stalwarts. It is no wonder therefore that the subject felt no need to worry about or to be worried with the issue of the repayment of the said loan, quite apart from what is said the party constitution did not allow an incumbent President to do as regards the finances of the party.

Anyway, the Fougerolle (Nigeria) Limited won the Ajaokuta Iron and Steel Complex civil works contract of N329 million when the NPN came to power. Dr Olusola Saraki (a leading member of the party), asked for 10 per cent of the contract sum as donation to the party.. Eventually, a 7½ per cent bargain based on a certain amount of the contract value was struck with the head of the company in Paris. This came to about N21.8 million. Half of this was agreed to be paid in local currency and the other half in foreign currency.

Chief Ayo Shosanya, the Chairman of Fougerolle (Nigeria) Limited, said certain members of the NPN gave him so much trouble in the way and at the odd times of the day they individually demanded for their share of the money that he had to appeal to Chief Akinloye that one person be nominated to receive money on behalf of the NPN. In the end Alhaju Shettima Ali Monguno who said he was merely told that Chief Shosanya was going to make a donation to the party was the one nominated. At this time some highly privileged party members had devoured the heart of the "kick-back".

The sum of N2 million in two equal cheques and another sum of N150,000 cash were paid by Chief Shosanya through Alhaji Shettima Ali Monguno, who at that stage had become aware of the loan raised by Dr Saraki for the party. Even this, he said, surprised and annoyed him because a loan like that was raised without taking him into confidence. However, he said because of the poor financial position, of the party, it was decided to give the N1 million cheque and the N150,000 cash to Dr Saraki while he paid the other N1 million cheque to the party through Alhaji Suleiman Takuma, the then national secretary of the party. The sum of N250,000 cash was also paid through Alhaji Suleiman Takuma direct by Chief Shosanya, which amount was said to have got to the party coffers. Of the said N21.8 million all that got to the party was N2,400,000, less the N1 million paid to Dr Saraki out of this amount.

The rest went into personal accounts of some party members here in Nigeria and overseas. In all this no part of the money is traced to the subject.

Chief Shosanya said he never discussed the issue of the 7½ per cent of the con- tract sum with the subject at any time. Alhaji Shettima Ali Monguno said the subject did not know about it nor how the party was funded. According to him, the Constitution of the party precluded whoever was the President of the country from getting involved with the finances or financing of the party. He said further that award of contracts was never discussed at the party caucus which was the only body the subject belonged to and whose meetings, which are held in his residence, he sometimes attended depending on the pressures of state matters.

So when an adjudicator begins to hesitate from the free and honest depth of his mind upon a rational and sober reflection on all the evidence tendered by the prosecution, he ought to hold that there is no need to proceed beyond that point and that the accused should be allowed to go.

Alhaji Shettima said he himself never knew of the contract award to Fougerolle (Ngeria) Limited until he was in detention with Chief Shosanya after the military came to power. Mr Bappa Mohammed Jama'are, a Deputy Commissioner of Police, who led the team investigated this matter, said in evidence that he confronted the subject with the details of the N21.8 million bribe and as to how it was disbursed. He said he expressed shock that such a colossal illegal arrangement took place behind his back.

At the end of the evidence adduced by the prosecution, learned counsel for the subject, Chief Kehinde Sofola, SAN sub- mitted that there was no case which could go before a tribunal or court for trial. He referred to the relevant aspects of the evidence and said there was nothing in law to support the charge of criminal conspiracy involving the subject to corruptly enrich the NPN and/or other persons as proposed to be laid by the prosecution.

The prosecutor however submitted that the subject cannot claim not to know that such an enormous sum of money was paid by Fougerolle (Nigeria) Limited to the NPN and some of its members from the huge contract for N329 million it was awarded by the NPN controlled Federal Government. He said he relied on circumstantial evidence and inference to connect the subject with the alleged conspiracy. Although he submitted that the offence of conspiracy is complete when two or more persons agree to do an unlawful act by unlawful means, even if any of them did nothing to accomplish it, he contended that if a person ought to know what is going on, he may still be a party to the offence of conspiracy.

At this stage of the proceedings the law is that when a submission is made that there is no offence disclosed on the evidence, the question does not arise whether or not the evidence adduced is believed nor is the credibility of the witnesses ordinarily in issue. The basis for the submission is that even if the evidence is believed, a conviction could not be based on it. This was decided in R v Coker (1952) N.L.R. 62.

This is usually called the issue of a prima facie case. The Federal Supreme Court in Ajidagba v Inspector General of Police (1958) F.S.C. 5 referred to an Indian case where it was said that what is meant by prima facie case is simply that which there is ground for proceeding to be con- ducted; in other words, that the evidence if uncontradicted will be sufficient to prove the case against an accused.

The Federal Supreme Court then attempted an approach as to how to consider whether to discharge an accused person at the close of the prosecution's case at pages 6 as follows: "A decision to discharge an accused person on the ground that a prima facie case has not been made against him must be a decision which, upon a calm view of the whole evidence offered by the prosecution, a rational understanding will suggest the conscientious hesitation of a mind that is not influenced by partiality, preoccupied or subdued by fear." So when an adjudicator begins to hesitate from the free and honest depth of his mind upon a rational and sober reflection on all the evidence tendered by the prosecution, he ought to hold that there is no need to proceed beyond that point and that the accused should be allowed to go.

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