By Amaechi Agbo
A federal High Court seating in Abuja Monday issued a bench warrant of arrest against five Nigeria Football Federation, NFF top officials over corruption and misappropriation of funds belonging to the federation.
Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu issued the arrest when the case of financial embezzlement levelled against the top NFF officials by the Special Presidential Investigative Panel, SPIP on assets recovery came up for hearing today in the court.
But in as many times, the five accused persons – Amaju Pinnick, NFF president; Seyi Akinwumi, 1st vice president; Mallam Shehu Dikko, 2nd vice president; Dr Sanusi Mohammed, secretary-general and Ahmed Yusuf ‘Fresh’ head of technical – were absent from court.
Justice Ojukwu who frowned at the continued absence of the accused queried the defence counsel led by Barrister Mohammed Katu to explain to the court why they were not in court.
Responding, Barr. Katu said that the accused persons were not in court because they were members of Federal Government, FG, delegation to Egypt for the 32nd Africa Cup of Nations holding in that country.
But the defence counsel, Dr. Celetus Ukpong countered him and told the court that the accused were not members of the FG delegates to Egypt, consequently he read out the names of the members of the delegates and pleaded with the judge to grant the panel the warrant of arrest to compel the accused to appear in court or be arrested.
In his word “Since the accused persons have decided to embark on jamboree, that is their personal business. In the circumstances in which they are absence, my lord, we humbly apply for bench warrant of arrest against them. Whenever they decide to come back, we will bring them before this honourable court for arraignment.”
But reacting to the request by the defence counsel, Bari. Katu explained further that the accused persons were in Egypt because “they are members of CAF organising Committee.”
But the explanation did not go down well with the judge who asked him “What are the duties of the accused in the match in Egypt – are they the coaches or players?”
The NFF lawyer replied “They are in Egypt offering services in terms of payment of players’ match bonuses and so on and so forth.”
The judge not taking the explanations further questioned their services to the players when they are neither coaches nor players. She stated that even if the president of the NFF is granted the leave to be in Egypt by the virtue of his position “what about the other four accused persons?”
At this point, the defendant lawyer apologised to the court.
The lead counsel read the names of the FG delegation to AFCON adding that “My Lord, their presence in Egypt is causing the downfall of the Super Eagles in the competition as they are losing everyday…”
“Even Madagascar…” the judge cut in (which elicited huge laughter in the court.
“Apart from that, the players pay bribe to be there, to be selected in the team and when they pay bribe to be there, they will demand for their bonuses and allowances,” the defence counsel said.
After further debates, the Justice granted the SPIP request and issued a bench warrant of arrest against the accused.
“A bench warrant is hereby issued on the defendants on notice and they shall be produced before the court on the execution of the bench warrant. Let the defence produce evidence that the accused are members of the delegates to the said AFCON match in Egypt. The bench warrant should exist till the production of the delegates’ list to the prosecuting authority. The matter is hereby adjourned to 26 day of September 2019 for arraignment and trial,” Justice Ojukwu read.