Suspected Multi-million Naira fraudster elected in African court

Despite a N1 billion suit against her for allegedly conspiring to subvert the trial of suspects in a multi-million naira contract scam involving Zinox officials, Stella Anukam was earlier this month named as one of 11 new Judges appointed for the African Court on Human & People’s Rights.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that Mrs Anukam, who is also the national coordinator on human rights issues in Nigeria, was elected during the 31st African Union Summit of Heads of State and Government in Nouackchott, Mauritania.

According to NAN, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Geoffrey Onyeama, in a statement on July 1 in Abuja hailed her election as “a great victory for Nigeria.”

But one man’s frustrating cry for justice over alleged abuse of his rights, which he blames on Mrs Anukam’s alleged connivance with the Nigerian police, remains a living pain still seeking restitution.

The managing director of an Ibadan-based ICT retail firm, Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, Benjamin Joseph, said his N1 billion suit against Mrs Anukam is his quest for elusive justice.

Mr Joseph’s immediate reaction to Mrs Anukam’s latest appointment was that of “sheer frustration and outright disgust,” a sad commentary about the depth of corruption in Nigeria.

In a telephone interview, Mr Joseph told PREMIUM TIMES that apart from his subsisting case against Mrs Anukam, he was considering a strong protest to the African Court on Human and People’s Rights against her election after due consultations with his legal counsel.

“I feel absolutely pained, frustrated and disgusted. Here am I, being swindled by a syndicate who illegally took over a contract awarded to my company in 2012. The syndicate forged my documents used in opening, transferring and withdrawing the money.

“Investigations by the police and all other security agencies, including the EFCC, identified the culprits since 2014. But, the police has refused to produce the culprits for prosecution, because Stella Anukam used her private law firm and public office as director to subvert the course of justice.

“Mrs Anukam has been the tool used by the syndicate that swindled my company to manipulate and frustrate the course of justice since 2014. Now, she thinks she has finished with Nigeria. She is taking the manipulation to Africa; to further oppress the down-trodden. How did she become a judge in a court on human rights? I don’t understand,” Mr Joseph lamented on telephone.

How It Started

The alleged fraud against Citadel Oracle was uncovered in August 2013. A formal report was lodged with the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) of the police in Lagos. Investigations were concluded in 2014. A case was established against suspects, including senior officials of Zinox Group.

But prosecution has since stalled, because the police has refused to release the case file to the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP), for prosecution, despite several requests.

On May 8, 2015, Mr Joseph petitioned Solomon Arase, then newly appointed Inspector General of Police, highlighting his company’s frustration.

Surprisingly, Mr. Arase’s response was an advice for him to allow the civil aspect of the case to run its full course before prosecution of the suspects, to prevent a miscarriage of justice.

On June 5, 2015, Mr. Joseph’s lawyers wrote to Mr Arase accusing him of attempts to shield the accused persons from prosecution, by asking for the conclusion of a non-existing civil case.

The lawyer issued a 21-day ultimatum for the former IGP to obey the rule of law and transfer the case file to the DPP for the prosecution of the suspects.

He equally followed up with another petition to the vice president, Yemi Osinbajo, who directed the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to investigate and get the matter resolved.

On June 16, 2016, three days before the end of IGP Arase’s tenure, Mr. Joseph, the petitioner, was charged to court by the police, on a one-count charge of providing false information in his petition against the suspects. A petitioner became the accused.

On July 2, 2016, Mr. Joseph was formally arraigned before the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Apo, Abuja accused of alleged “identity theft, impersonation and criminal conversion of contracts against the accused person.” The former accused persons were now being used by the police as prosecution witnesses.

Petition Against Mrs Anukam

Alleging victimisation, Mr. Joseph petitioned the Attorney-General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami, blaming his travails on ‘insider manipulations’ orchestrated by a ministry top official.

On December 7, 2016, in response to Mr Joseph’s petition, the AGF approved a senior counsel from the Ministry of Justice to formally take over the case in court at the resumed sitting. But, another twist was to follow.

At the resumed hearing on February 28, 2017, Simon Lough, the police prosecutor, came up with a letter signed by the DPP, Mohammed Umar, upturning the AGF’s earlier directive. The letter reinstated the police to continue Mr. Joseph’s trial to its logical conclusion.

Interestingly, Mr. Umar who signed the previous letter that conveyed the AGF’s directive to take-over the case was the same signatory of the letter restoring the police to the case.

Findings from the ministry of Justice revealed Mr. Umar’s letter upturning the AGF’s earlier directive, was based on a petition dated December 13, 2016 by a private law firm, Integrity Law Firm.

The letter, signed by Innocent Eriomionkhale, alleged the AGF had been misinformed over his decision to take over Mr Joseph’s prosecution.

He told the AGF withdrawing prosecution from the police in the case would derail a pending trial against Mr. Joseph.

Further findings from the ministry revealed Mr. Eriomionkhale was the younger brother to Stella Anukam, the director of International & Comparative Law in the justice ministry, who doubled as the lead partner in Integrity Law Firm, the private law firm that wrote the protest against the AGF’s take-over of the case.

Victim Petitions Vice President

On April 11, 2017, Mr Joseph petitioned the then acting president, Yemi Osinbajo, demanding Mrs Anukam’s investigation over allegations she abused her office by using her position to obstruct justice against the Zinox Group officials accused of involvement in a N170 million contract fraud.

The petition also called for the probe of Integrity Law Firm, which acted as legal counsel to Zinox Group and its accused top staff.

Until PREMIUM TIMES broke the story on the petition to the acting president, Mrs Anukam was paraded as lead team member of the law firm.

The story not only highlighted the illegality inherent in Mrs Anukam’s conduct, it raised serious conflict of interest issues about her role in Integrity Law Firm, which contravened the Nigerian law barring public officers from private practice.

Immediately, Integrity Law Firm edited Mrs. Anukam’s profile on its website, and later removed it completely from the site, along with that of a Federal Capital Territory Customary Court judge, Femi Odeahan.

Since then, all data on the law firm’s website linking Mrs. Anukam to the ownership of the law firm have been removed.

Apart from Innocent Eremionkhale, a lawyer, who is Mrs. Anukam’s younger brother, captured in the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) documents as proprietor, Mrs Anukam and Mr Odeahan were first and second management team members of the law firm.

On July 10, 2017, Mr Osinbajo, in acknowledging the receipt of Mr Joseph’s petition, said he had transferred the petition to the “appropriate authority for necessary action.”

This was coming several months after similar petitions were sent to the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF), Abubakar Malami; then Solicitor General of the Federation, Taiwo Abidogun, and Director of Public Prosecution, Mohammed Umar, without any action.

On May 4, 2017, Mr. Malami told PREMIUM TIMES in a text message: “Investigation is ongoing, but not concluded.”

On June 21, he confirmed the report on the investigation into the allegations against Mrs Anukam was ready and asked the reporter to contact him later for details of the findings.

Since then, Mr. Malami has neither picked several calls to his telephone nor responded to text messages sent to him on the issue. Same as Mr Umar.

During the month, Zinox, in what appeared a bid to gag critical reporting, sued PREMIUM TIMES. The company demanded N2 billion as damages. This newspaper has also sued Zinox N10 billion, for damages.

On July 26, 2017, Mr Joseph’s lawyers also wrote to the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation and the Chairman, Federal Civil Service Commission (FCSC), requesting them to investigate Mrs. Anukam for alleged abuse of office. None of them acknowledged receipt of the letters.

In October 2017, Mr Joseph filed a N1 billion suit against Mrs Anukam for alleged conspiracy to subvert the trial of top officials of Zinox Group for multi-million naira fraud against his company.

Also joined in the suit was Mrs Anukam’s brother, Mr.  Eremionkhale.

Mr. Joseph accused Mrs Anukam of not only using her official position as director in the justice ministry, but also her link as a partner of the private law firm to suppress the prosecution of the Zinox Group officials for the fraud.

Although the quest for justice has lingered for almost four years, the EFCC penultimate Thursday formally filed charges against only two of the 11 suspects.

Officials Keep Mum

The AGF did not answer repeated calls to his telephone. He equally did not respond to text and WhatsApp messages sent to him . Calls to Mrs Anukam’s known telephone failed to connect.

Although the DPP, Mr Umar, answered the call from PREMIUM TIMES, when the issue of Mrs Anukam’s appointment in relation to her controversial role in the scandal was raised, he refused any further comment.

He has not picked up calls to his telephone number since then, neither has he responded to text or WhatsApp messages.

When contacted, the Solicitor General of the Federation, Dayo Apata, told PREMIUM TIMES he wanted to get in touch with Mrs Anukam before responding to our enquiry. He promised to call back with her response.

Hours later, when he was contacted again, Mr. Apata said Mrs Anukam travelled outside the country.

Mr Apata has since not responded again till the time of this publication.

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