Offa Robbery: Again, Attorney General, Malami writes IGP, insists Saraki innocent

Nigeria’s Attorney-General, Abubakar Malami, has written yet another letter to Inspector-General Ibrahim Idris, informing him that the police still do not have reasonable evidence to put Senate President Bukola Saraki on trial for the armed robbery that took place in Kwara State earlier this year.

In a legal advice which Mr Malami’s office sent to Mr Idris on June 29, it was strongly recommended that Mr Saraki should not be identified as a suspect in the robbery because there was no evidence.

PREMIUM TIMES recently obtained a copy of the June 29 memo, which was an update to the June 22 preliminary report that exonerated Mr Saraki. PREMIUM TIMES exclusively published the outcome of the preliminary investigation in July.

The police excoriated PREMIUM TIMES for the report at the time, saying an interim document should not be relied on because fresh findings had been forwarded to the attorney-general which strongly linked Mr Saraki to the robbery.

But Mohammed Etsu, the federal director of public prosecution who prepared both the first and second reports for the attorney-general, insisted there was “no departure from the earlier findings in the interim report this office is still unable to establish any” actionable evidence against Mr Saraki “for any offences of criminal armed robbery and culpable homicide punishable with death”.

Mr Malami also cleared Yusuf Abdulwahab, the chief of staff to Governor Abdulfatah Ahmed, of any involvement in the armed robbery.

The police investigation did not uncover “any collaborative evidence linking” Mr Abdulwahab “to the Offa bank robbery,” the attorney-general said, consequently justifying a court’s decision that earlier admitted the senior aide to bail.

There is a judicial precedent that a suspect who has not been tried and convicted by a competent court could be admitted to bail, Mr Malami added. Mr Abdulwahab was similarly cleared in the preliminary report.

The attorney-general’s office said only prime suspects who took part in the robbery should be charged to court for armed robbery and murder, both of which could draw capital punishment upon conviction.

The AGF also ordered that the case should be returned to Kwara State for prosecution, marking yet another blow to the police’s determination to try all the suspects in Abuja.

The decision is a major victory for the Kwara State judiciary, which took concerted steps to assert its authority over the matter but was frustrated by the domineering powers of the police, an institution controlled solely by the president.

The charges against the armed robbery suspects “were committed in Offa, Kwara State” and should be under the “exclusive jurisdiction” of the Kwara State High Court as enumerated in the Constitution, Mr Malami said.

Carnage Overshadowed By Politics

The robbery of five different banks on April 5 left at least 31 dead in Offa, home to a major federal polytechnic and second-biggest town in the North-Central state. Amongst those killed were nine police officers, motorists and town residents, police said.

The police deemed the robbery amongst the deadliest in recent years, and swung into action to unravel its plotters.

A special police team detailed to investigate the incident arrested seven suspects within the first two days of the attack, and made more arrests in succeeding days.

Six weeks later, the police said they had taken two more suspects into custody, including the alleged mastermind, Michael Adikwu, after a composite CCTV picture of the suspects was circulated by the police.

Mr Malami said in the June 29 letter to Mr Idris that Mr Adikwu died in police custody shortly after his arrest, but the Force Headquarters suppressed the development from Nigerians until last week.

But the matter took a political dimension when the police publicly linked Messrs Saraki and Ahmed and their political associates to the robbery.

The police circulated a picture one of the robbery suspects took with Mr Saraki at his daughter’s wedding last year as a key evidence that linked the Senate President to both the suspects and the crime. The police also said one of the vehicles used by the suspects had a dummy number plate with Mr Saraki’s name inscribed on it.

Also, some officials of Kwara State government were also arrested and one of the vehicles allegedly used in the robbery was found in the home of a commissioner.

All the state officials denied allegations, and some were later released without charges.

The two conclusions of the attorney-general bolstered Mr Saraki’s perennial outcry that he had nothing to do with the armed robbery. He accused the police of being used as a political tool by President Muhammadu Buhari, with whom he had fell out after playing a critical role in his emergence as president.

Mr Buhari’s government has initiated several criminal charges against Mr Saraki since the former Kwara governor emerged Senate President in 2015 without the approval of the ruling All Progressives Congress.

The top lawmaker, who has since abandoned the ruling party for the main opposition Peoples Democratic Party, has, however, managed to win some of the criminal charges against him, including the Supreme Court ruling that extricated him of false assets declaration charges earlier this year.

‘Disparaging Suggestion’

In concluding his legal advice to the police, Mr Malami warned a police chief in charge of the armed robbery investigation to desist from offering ‘condescending opinions’ to the AGF’s office.

David Ogbodo, an assistant inspector-general of police, had suggested in the second police submission that Mr Malami should step aside in the case and detail a senior Nigerian lawyer to handle prosecutorial advice.

Mr Malami said his office had dispassionately prosecuted several cases that were successful, and warned Mr Igbodo to desist from making official comments that could be deemed as “disparaging” to the office of the AGF.

As the attorney-general, Mr Malami regularly authors legal advices to the police and other law enforcement agencies on how to proceed in criminal litigations.

In 2017, the AGF advised the president to relax charges in the $1.1 billion Malamu oil scandal, one of the flagship corruption cases being prosecuted by the administration.

Mr Malami said there was no sufficient evidence to nail a former petroleum minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke, and former Attorney-General Bello Adoke.

He said the suspects cannot be held liable for acting on the orders of President Goodluck Jonathan in approving the 2011 deal between Shell-Agip and Dan Etete, a former Nigerian oil minister who had been convicted on money laundering charges in France in 2007.

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