Cablegate: Ministerial Corrpution Trial: Noise, Not Action

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

291345Z Apr 04



E.O. 12958: N/A



1. (C) Summary: Intrigues and suspicion -- but little action
-- surround the snail-paced trial of former Nigerian
ministers and other senior officials accused of receiving
payoffs from a French company to facilitate winning of a
multi-million dollar National Identity Card contract. The
trial that started last December has been thrice adjourned,
and both the trial judge and the leading prosecution counsel
have been replaced without explanation. There are rumors
that Chief Sunday Afolabi, a former Minister and President
Obasanjo's 2003 campaign coordinator in the Southwest, had
been poisoned after telling close aides he was ready to
disclose how he used his share of the loot to finance
Obasanjo's re-election. Another rumor flying around is that
Hussaini Akwanga, Labor Minister until he was indicted, has
left the country, but he has been seen in Abuja since and may
only have embarked on a foreign trip in spite of court
restrictions on his movements. End Summary.


2. (U) On December 3, 2003 police arrested then Labor
Minister Hussaini Akwanga, former Internal Affairs Ministers
Afolabi and Shata, former Internal Affairs PermSec Akerele,
former state governor and past ruling-PDP Secretary
Okwesilieze Nwodo, and Internal Affairs Ministry Director
Christopher Agidi. Nigerians were shocked when Secretary to
the Government Ekaette announced on December 4 that Akwanga
had been fired from his post as Labor Minister, as the
present Constitution gives immunity to sitting Ministers The
prosecution by the GON's Independent Corrupt Practices
Commission (ICPC) coincided with the Commonwealth Heads of
Government Meeting (CHOGM) the GON was hosting in Abuja, and
was seen variously as first fruits of Obasanjo's long
proclaimed crackdown on corruption or as window dressing for

3. (U) On December 29, the ICPC presented a 16-count charge
to Justice Bukar Ibrahim of the Abuja High Court accusing the
ministers and their collaborators of receiving various sums
of money totaling over USD 2 million in local and foreign
currencies from one Mr. Niyi Adelagun, a Nigerian business
partner of Sagem S.A., the French company that won the USD
214 million contract for the National Identity Card. The
seven were indicted for corruptly receiving the money to
support or favor the bidding process of Sagem S.A., while the
ICPC brief accused Adelagun of offering the bribes.
According to the ICPC, all of these are offenses punishable
under section 19 of the Nigeria's Corrupt Practices and Other
Related Offenses Act, 2000.

4. (U) Adelagun, who allegedly offered the bribes, did not
appear before the court. The prosecutor and principal legal
officer, Sanusi Kado explained that Adelagun was absent
because the police had not been able to serve a warrant on
him. Counsels to the accused objected to Kado's explanation,
given that their clients had been arrested, and they
challenged the indictment on the basis of Adelagun's absence.
Justice Ibrahim dismissed their objection, noting that the
ICPC prosecutor did not need to explain why others were not
arrested (giving and receiving bribes being different crimes).

5. (U) Head of the Nigerian Civil Service Yayale Ahmed, whose
name was connected with the scandal in the indictment, was
not charged. Ahmed has claimed he had been offered USD
250,000 from the contract kickback, and had immediately
reported the matter to security agents and the ICPC. Ahmed
will likely be a key witness during the trial.

6. (U) Defense counsels asked that their clients be released
on bail, and Justice Ibrahim granted bail December 31 citing
Nigeria's Constitution and the ICPC Act that their offenses
were bailable since they were not charged with capital
crimes. Even if convicted on all charges, the maximum
penalties would be no more than five and seven years.
Ibrahim fixed the main trial for January 23 and ordered the
defendants to remain within Abuja and to surrender their
international passports to Abuja Commissioner of Police.


7. (U) On January 23 all the parties involved were present at
the court except Justice Ibrahim, and the case was adjourned
until March 25. Court sources told Political Specialist that
Justice Ibrahim was out of Abuja at that time sitting as a
member of an election tribunal hearing an ongoing suit
against the 2003 elections: "The participation of Justice
Ibrahim in the election tribunal was equally crucial and
time-sensitive." The sources claimed, "Members of the
election tribunals were working round to clock to meet

8. (U) On March 25 the court reconvened again but made no
progress in the case. Justice Mudashiru Oniyangi took over
as the presiding judge, replacing Justice Ibrahim, and Chief
Makanjuola Esan replaced Sanusi Kado as the ICPC prosecutor.
No reasons were given for the changes. Esan asked for
adjournment, saying he needed more time to study the case.
Justice Oniyangi accepted that, adjourning until June 2.
Before the adjournment, defense counsels asked that their
clients be allowed to continue on the original terms of their
bail. The ICPC Prosecutor oddly did not object, given
longstanding ICPC complaints that bail allows the accused in
corruption cases to escape justice, and Justice Oniyangi
ruled that his predecessor's granting of bail would continue.

--------------------------------------------- -----

9. (C) There have been persistent rumors that the accused
have traveled despite the terms of their bail. Ex-Labor
Minister Akwanga was seen recently in Abuja, but his former
aide tells us Akwanga traveled throughout Nigeria for
consultations after his bail. Two sources from Akwanga's
Nasarawa hometown have claimed publicly that he visited
London in January. Attempting to debunk this story, the
former aide said that "the court ordered him to deposit his
passport with the FCT police command, so how could he travel
abroad?" After being sacked in December, Akwanga was
forcefully evicted from his official quarters and relocated
to a private residence. Asked about the trial, the aide said
Akwanga was initially worried but later he appeared to be
confident. Others among the accused are similarly rumored to
have traveled both inside and outside Nigeria.


10. (C) The case is surrounded by rumors. One of former
Interior Minister Afolabi's family members told the press
that soon after Afolabi was indicted and threatened to talk,
he became seriously ill. Rumors started flying that he had
been killed by poisoning. Afolabi's lawyer, J.B. Daudu, told
Pol-Specialist that Afolabi had been admitted to the
University of Ife Teaching Hospital Intensive Care Unit, and
that Afolabi's condition continued to deteriorate daily.
Daudu said neither the doctors nor the family could identify
the exact nature of the illness. Other usually reliable
sources say Afolabi has since been flown abroad to an unnamed
location for treatment for an undisclosed renal problem, and
that his chances of survival were very slim.

11. (C) Many rumors have it that President Obasanjo's wife
Stella and son Gbenga are very afraid of Afolabi giving
testimony in court. The First Lady is involved in a company
that was working with the French company Sagem on the
National Identity Card project, although neither she nor her
company were mentioned in the indictment or in the ICPC
prosecutor's wider presentation before the court. The rumors
credit Stella and Gbenga with using their connections to
ensure that Sagem got the contract, including the President's
introducing the company to Afolabi. Various Embassy contacts
tell us Stella's company used various "supplier" companies to
gain about USD 36 million -- a recurring figure more than 15
times the amount of the alleged bribes in the ICPC indictment
-- from the National Identity Card project.

12. (C) The National Identity Card project was conceived many
years ago by then military head of state Obasanjo, and it was
long rumored to have been used by succeeding military rulers
of Nigeria to steal public funds before the return to
civilian rule in 1999.

13. (C) Will the case make any headway from its next
scheduled date of June 2? Most Nigerians are beginning to
wonder. A local cigarette vendor put that view quite
succinctly: "They may come up with another trick to postpone
the trial, or at the end the trial may not produce any
tangible result." The alternative view among Nigerians,
first fruits of anti-corruption efforts, seems to be
withering on the vine.

© Scoop Media

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