The EFCC is prosecuting Mr. Ajudua on a 14-count charge bordering on obtaining $6 million (about N1 billion) from Mr. Bamaiyi, a former Chief of Army Staff, under false pretences. The defendant allegedly collected the money from Mr. Bamaiyi while the duo were in custody at Kirikiri Prison, Lagos. Mr. Ajudua, 52, pleaded not guilty to all the counts.
A PRISONYARD DEAL Between November 2004 and March 2005 while he was in custody at Kirikiri Prison, the EFCC said that Mr. Ajudua conspired with some prison inmates to defraud Mr. Bamaiyi, who was also in prison, of millions of dollars and naira. The defendant’s accomplices – Alumile Adedeji (also known as Ade Bendel), Mr. Jonathan, Mr. Kenneth, and Princess Hamabon Williams – are still at large, according to the EFCC.
The defendant and his cohorts had approached Mr. Bamaiyi, who was facing trial for the attempted murder of Alex Ibru, the Publisher of The Guardian newspaper, and convinced him they could secure his freedom. And then the transaction began, according to the anti-graft agency. Mr. Bamaiyi first allegedly paid $330,000 to Mr. Ajudua as part payment for the professional fees purportedly charged by Afe Babalola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, to handle his case and facilitate his release from prison.
Other cash payments for Mr. Babalola’s services followed in quick succession – $1.5 million; $80,000; $500,000; $200,000; $500,000; $175,000; $50,000; $510,000; $450,000; $1.6 million; $2 million; and N1 million. The EFCC said that the funds were laundered through Abdullahi Garba, then Assistant Comptroller of Prisons; Garba Tagda; Lawal Danladi and others. ‘ABUSE OF COURT PROCESS’ Prior to Tuesday’s arraignment, the EFCC had continually accused Mr. Ajudua’s lawyers of abuse of court process in their attempt to stall their client’s arraignment and trial.
At the last sitting, the judge had ruled against the defence’ application to quash the charges against him as well as questioning the court’s jurisdiction to try him. On Tuesday, Olalekan Ojo, the defence lawyer, informed the court that he had lodged an appeal against the March 3rd ruling.
“In order to demonstrate the seriousness of the defendant, the defendant compiled the record of appeal and had it transmitted to the Court of Appeal, Lagos State Division, on the 10th day of March 2014,” said Mr. Ojo. “In addition to the transmission of the record of appeal, the defendant has filed a motion at the Court of Appeal on the same 10th March 2014. The record of the appeal as well as the motion on notice of the appeal has been served on the complainant respondent.
It was duly acknowledged by the EFCC,” Mr. Ojo added. Mr. Ojo said that their relief before the Court of Appeal is for a stay of proceedings or alternatively suspending Mr. Ajudua’s arraignment or plea-taking before the High Court. “It is my humble submission that the defendant’s application before the Court of Appeal raises issues of further proceedings before this court and apply that Your Lordship out of deference to the Court of Appeal adjourn proceedings in this case to await the decision of the Court of Appeal.
“This is to ensure that the jurisdiction of the Court of Appeal over the matter and the motion in particular is not interfered with either directly or indirectly or the Court of Appeal is not faced with a fait accompli,” Mr. Ojo added. Responding to Mr. Ojo’s argument, Kingsley Olusesi, the EFCC lawyer, insisted that Mr. Ajudua be arraigned since he had appeared before the court.
“This is a criminal trial. He is supposed to file a stay of proceedings here and if it is refused, he then goes to Court of Appeal. It’s a clear abuse of court process. They know what they are doing. The plea must be taken today and a date for trial fixed,” Mr. Olusesi added.
In her short ruling, Oluwatoyin Ipaye, the trial judge, agreed with the EFCC lawyer and ordered that Mr. Ajudua take his plea. “The mere transmission of a record of appeal to the Court of Appeal does not immediately assume jurisdiction of the matter,” the judge ruled. “This application to suspend hearing is hereby refused,” she added. Court proceedings began in the morning but was suspended till afternoon due to Mr. Ajudua’s absence.
His lawyer told the court that he was still on his way from the Lagos University Teaching Hospital where he had been receiving treatment for his kidney ailment. Like in subsequent proceedings, Mr. Ajudua was helped into the dock by two prison warders when he arrived in the afternoon. In the middle of his plea-taking, the judge asked him to sit and rest for two minutes before continuing.
After the last count was read to him which erroneously stated that Kirikiri Prison was located in Ikoyi, Mr. Ajudua declined to plead guilty or not guilty, saying that the charge “doesn’t make sense.” The judge directed the registrar to make the appropriate correction after which the defendant pleaded not guilty.
The judge adjourned till April 8 for the hearing of all pending applications, including the one for bail. Mr. Ajudua, alongside Charles Orie, is also facing another trial for defrauding Remy Cina and Pierre Vijgen, two Dutch businessmen, of $1.69 million (N287 million).