A former Deputy Comptroller General of the Nigerian Customs Service, Rasheed Taiwo Owolabi, has accused the chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Danladi Yakubu Umar, of corruption and bias and demanded that he disqualifies himself from the Tribunal panel that will try him on false asset declaration charges preferred against him by the Federal Government.
Owolabi is standing trial on a one-count charge of failure to declare his assets throughout his career in the public service, contrary to paragraph II (1) of the Fifth Schedule, Part 1 and punishable under Paragraph 18 (1) and (2) of the 1999 Constitution.
But the ex-Customs Chief claimed that Umar, in 2012, shortly after the charge was slammed on him, once approached him for a bribe of N10 million to pervert the cause of justice in a criminal matter filed by the Federal Government.
He argued through his counsel, Festus Ukpein, in his motion on notice that he reported Umar to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) prompting his arrest and interrogation on the alleged bribery request.
Owolabi claimed that he would never get fair trial and justice from the CCT boss, having implicated him in the bribery saga, which led to the ongoing trial of his Personal Assistant, Ali Gambo Abdullahi, for criminal offence before an Abuja High Court
Specifically, Owolabi alleged that the CCT boss had become biased against him for dragging him (Umar) to the anti–graft agency on his demand for N10million bribe and the part payment of N1.8million, hence he could not get justice before Umar-led tribunal as required by law.
Owolabi, who appeared at the tribunal on Thursday, prayed that the charge against him since 2012 be struck out for want of diligent prosecution and for the likelihood of bias against him.
He predicated the motion asking Umar to disqualify himself on five issues among which was that during the pendency of his trial, he made several allegations of graft against the CCT chairman, which led to the trial of his Personal Assistant in respect of the allegation.
He insisted that it had become legally impossible for the CCT chairman to adjudicate over the matter because of a likelihood of bias by Umar against him.
The applicant, therefore, asked Umar to disqualify himself from the CCT panel billed to try him on the ground that he (applicant) will not get fair trial and justice from any trial conducted by Umar.
However, in opposing the motion, the Code of Conduct Bureau (CCB) which, on behalf the Federal Government, filed the charge against the ex Custom’s chief, urged the tribunal chairman to dismiss the motion on the ground that it lacked merit.
Counsel for the CCB, Peter Danladi, who is prosecuting the defendant, told the tribunal that the motion was a ploy to further delay the trial, adding that the tribunal had, in 2013, filed a motion at the court of appeal but abandoned the appeal.
The CCB lawyer said the tribunal chairman could not take the place of the prosecution as the tribunal had always held that the prosecution should prove its case beyond reasonable doubt even though the offence of failure to declare one’s assets was an offence.
“This application is vexatious and a ploy to stop the trial of the accused. It is in the interest of justice to deny this application and ask the accused to be ready for his trial at this tribunal.
“When the accused was arraigned, he took his plea and pleaded not guilty only for them to return, alleging likelihood of bias. We ask this tribunal to deny the application and ask him to stand trial,” the prosecution told the Tribunal.
The tribunal chairman, Danladi Yakubu Umar, has fixed June 14, 2016 for ruling on the motion.