The 11-year-old trial of Chief Rashidi Ladoja, a former Governor of Oyo State, over allegations of benefitting illegally from the sum of N4.7billion came to a close on Monday, with the court reserving judgement.
Ladoja has been on trial on an 11-count charge, accused by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) of N4.7 billion fraud. He was charged alongside Waheed Akanbi, who was Oyo State Commissioner for Finance during the former’s administration.
On Monday, the prosecution and the defence adopted their final written addresses and canvassed closing arguments.
Ladoja's lawyer, Bolaji Onilenla, contended that the charges filed by the EFCC against his client were defective and were bound to be dismissed by the court. Onilenla argued that in filing the charges, the prosecution not only muddled up offences which ought to have been charged separately, the charges did not also disclose any substance, just as they contained non-essential elements.
"Where the essential elements of a charge are missing, such a charge is a nullity because in the first place, there is no charge and not even an amendment can cure it. So, we urge Your Lordship to, on the basis of these objections, quash the charges. The court is urged to discharge and acquit the 1st defendant," Onilenla said.
He argued that EFCC failed to adduce any direct or circumstantial evidence to show that Ladoja's former Senior Special Executive Assistant, Chief Adewale Atanda, acted under Ladoja's instructions to meet with stockbrokers, who sold shares belonging to Oyo State.
"Though PW2 (Atanda) described the proceeds of shares as impeachment funds, PW3 and PW4 denied this. PW4, Oba Kola Daisi, said there was never any impeachment fund," Ladoja's lawyer added.
On the allegation that Ladoja used N77.1million out of the shares' proceeds to purchase a property, Quarter 361, Onilenla said Atanda had stated in his testimony that a loan was taken to purchase the property.
"So, that means it (Quarter 361) could not have anything to with the issue of shares," he said.
He added that the EFCC failed to prove its allegation that Ladoja sent £600,000, from the state coffers to his daughter, Bimpe Ladoja, who was in London at the time.
"Vital witnesses were not called; all the issues raised as to the competence of the charges, none has been addressed. I sympathise with the prosecution. On the whole, the prosecution has failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. On the other hand, the 1st defendant has discharged the burden placed upon him by this court. The prosecution has proved nothing," Onilenla said.
Adeyinka Olumide-Fusika (SAN), Akanbi's lawyer, argued that the case presented before the court by the prosecution was fraught with inconsistencies, adding that the testimonies of the third, fourth and sixth prosecution witnesses were contradictory.
Olumide-Fusika accused the prosecution of desperately searching for non-existent evidence to "do my client in," noting that even the prosecutor, Olufemi Olabisi, knew and had admitted that there was no case against Akanbi, but because the case file was only handed over to the prosecutor, "he found it difficult to advise them (Federal Government) to withdraw the charges because there is no case”.
"Your Lordship will see the weakness of their case, which they themselves were conscious of and it reflected in their submissions. If you do not have evidence against a party, why drag him to court. I am urging Your Lordship to courageously do justice between the parties and say if you don't have evidence, don't charge people to court,” Olumide-Fusika said.
According to him, Ladoja's ex-aide, Atanda, whom the EFCC converted to a witness, was supposed to be the one on trial rather than Ladoja and Akanbi.
He described as "the height of attempt at injustice to leave Atanda" and prosecute Ladoja and Akanbi.
"You decide that they (Akanbi) are innocent in your office at the EFCC; they are good Nigerians. It is the height of injustice. I urge Your Lordship to discharge and acquit my client because there is no shred of evidence against him. He is guilty of nothing," Olumide-Fusika said.
However, the prosecutor, Olabisi, urged the court to hold that "the prosecution has proved the essential elements of the offences charged”.
"We pray the court to convict the defendants guilty as charged," Olabisi said.
After hearing all the parties out, Justice Mohammed Idris thanked them "that this matter has been finally concluded”.
"The burial is the judgement. It will be buried finally," the judge said, noting that the judgment day would soon be communicated to the parties.