On February 6, 2018, he woke up just like every other day but that day was a different one. He had an appointment to keep. Not an everyday appointment such as office schedule but an appointment to keep, to hear the judgment of his case in the Court of Appeal, sitting in Abuja.
The case had lingered since 2010. Like a marathon race that seemed endless, that day was the deciding day, the Day of Judgment.
Alhaji Sani Lulu Abdullahi, the former Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) President, went through pains and torture while his cases of financial impropriety and money laundering including breach of due process in awarding contracts, among others, proffered against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, lasted.
Alhaji Sani Lulu became NFF President in August 2006 and won a re-election in August 2010 but he faced turbulent times in his second coming as forces and groups metamorphosed to derail his mission to the Glass House.
Lulu’s “undoing” was his re-election. The congress of the NFF in a meeting attended by 9 out of the then 13 Executive members of the NFF impeached Lulu, his first Vice-President Amanze Uchegbulam and Taiwo Ogunjobi after they “were found guilty of financial impropriety”.
Prior to the purported impeachment which was later vacated in December of the same year, the Federal Government had announced a two-year ban on the country participation in international football competitions.
Following government decision, the World Football governing body, FIFA, issued a 48-hour ultimatum for government to rescind its decision.
Then NFF spokesman, Dr Peter Singabelle, said this of the impeachment “We are taking this decision not because we have not been seeing certain wrongs for long, but the issue of impeaching certain members, including Lulu, had been in the pipeline. But other considerations and matters had always cropped up for us to leave it until later.”
Subsequently, Lulu and his colleagues were invited by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to its office in Abuja over alleged misappropriation of N1.4billion, gross abuse of public fund among other alleged fraudulent acts.
The former NFF top officials were also accused by the EFCC to have breached due process in the purchase of two Marcopolo buses in a 10-count charge when they were first arraigned in October 2010 and subsequently charged to court.
The accused persons were said to have committed the offences while in office between 2006 and 2010. The charges included, among others, “unauthorized payment of estacodes/allowances of 800,000 dollars to 220 delegates to the 2010 World Cup in South Africa as against the 47 delegates approved for the trip’’.
They were also alleged of “mismanaging N900m World Cup funds belonging to the NFF and the purchase of luxury buses for the Super Eagles at over-inflated prices. They were further charged with incurring a125, 000 dollar fine in South Africa over a botched deal with a hotel.
The EFCC which had earlier pressed ten count charges against Sani Lulu and three other former officials of NFF in October went to court to press more charges against them.
The former NFA officials who included Amanze Uchegbulam, Bolaji Ojo-Oba and Taiwo Ogunjobi were accused of misappropriation of N1.4 billion, among other charges that cast serious doubt on their integrity as public servants.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFFC, dragged the former chiefs of the NFF to court over the alleged misappropriation of N1.5billion released by the Federal Government for the 2010 FIFA World Cup held in South Africa.
Lulu, Ogunjobi, Uchegbulam and Ojo-Oba were granted bail on the condition that each accused person must provide N100million bond with two sureties.
According to Justice David Okorowa, one of the sureties must be a federal civil servant of no less than Grade Level 15 with a three-year tax clearance.
As the case lingered and in a bid to ensure prompt discharge of the allegations in order to establish his innocence, Lulu approached an Abuja Federal High Court where he filed a “no-case-submission’’ application with regards to the EFCC charges against him.
A “no case submission’’ is a legal argument put to a court at the conclusion of the prosecution’s case, whereby a defendant seeks acquittal without having to present a defense.
But the presiding judge of the High Court, Justice Evoh Chukwu, dismissed the application in a ruling delivered on the eight-count charge bordering on mismanagement of N1.4billion proffered against Lulu and co-accused while in office.
The judge held: “The defendants are bound by the Public Procurement Act (PPA) and as such should defend themselves in the charge leveled against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission… the provision of section 60 of the Public Procurement Act (PPA) covers NFF and having said that, it followed that all the defendants are bound by the provisions of the PPA.”
In an interview he granted to journalist last year, sad Lulu had this to say over the protracted court case “Temporarily, in my life, one minute in 24 hours, I can say I am a very pained man. I am always bitter knowing I am still facing court prosecution on allegations of mismanagement of funds.
“As I am talking to you here, I am not a happy man because some people sat and stopped me from giving my service, my sincere service, to my great country.
“I sometimes have to trek to Abuja while members of my administration, impeached with me, have to spend money to come to Abuja to attend court proceeding that had been on since I was removed in 2010.
“I have no hard feelings against anybody as I have since then moved on, but will continue to pray for justice to prevail. Justice delayed is not justice denied. No matter how long, I will wait for justice as I’m not guilty of any corruption charges,” Lulu had said.
The lamentation of innocent man who suffered seven years of legal battle to prove his innocence instead of rewards for dedicated service to his fatherland, can only be imagined.
And the delayed justice was finally delivered on February 6, 2018 when the Court of Appeal sitting in Abuja, set aside the judgment of the Federal High Court, Abuja delivered on February 22nd, 2016 by Justice Evoh Chukwu which dismissed a ‘no-case-submission’ filed by Sani Abdullahi Lulu.
Justice Ahmad Belgore, while delivering the landmark judgment, said: “This appeal has merit and the judgment of the Federal High Court, delivered on February 22, 2016 is hereby set aside and the appellant, Sani Abdullahi Lulu, discharged and acquitted.”
Lulu, Uchegbulam, Ogunjobi and Dr. Bolaji Ojo-Oba were arraigned on September 6, 2010, for alleged misappropriation of funds without giving proper accounts of how the money was spent during the South Africa 2010 World Cup.
While the appeals of Amanze Uchegbulam and Chief Taiwo Ogunjobi, Sani Lulu’s co accused are still pending at the Court Appeal, the fourth accused person, Bolaji Ojo-Oba, erstwhile general secretary of NFF, had earlier been discharged and acquitted by the Court of Appeal.
Despite the dismissal and acquittal, Alhaji Sani Lulu is not a happy man.
After the judgments, Lulu asked God to use his case to address all injustices and pervasiveness in the country. “With my case” he said, “we will restructure the rot in the society and give hope to the oppressed. What I asked God, He does for me.”
“I was a dying man when I left NFF. I was a moving corpse before I left NFF. My patriotism for this country cannot be subjugated. I disregarded doctor’s instructions not to leave hospital in UK in order to motivate and cheer Super Eagles to victory in a match during my tenure. I have sacrificed for this country,” Lulu lamented
For the umpteen times, the former Director of FCT Sports reiterated his stand that he has no interest in the NFF presidency as election comes up in September.
However, at this very juncture, plethoras of questions beg for answers.
Since Lulu was impeached in July 2010 and the impeachment vacated in December of the same year, why would he not go back to reclaim his mandate given to him in 2010? With the Appeal Court judgment, does this not legalize his mandate and consequently renders every other action performed therefrom invalid, illegal, null and void?
He was impeached but within 5 months, the impeachment was vacated by the same NFF. Could it not have been a case of vendetta when EFCC came after him with financial impropriety charges which the court has quashed?
Who is behind Lulu’s travails? Even though his impeachment was vacated months after, Lulu was never reinstated as the NFF president. So, even if he says he was not interested in the NFF presidency again of which election is due in September, does that preclude him from seeking for the position he was unjustly removed from?
These and many more questions will be unraveled as time unfolds.