Benjamin Joseph, the owner of Citadel Oracle Concepts Limited, an Ibadan-based ICT retail firm, has failed to appear in court to defend a case of malicious falsehood and false petitioning filed against him by the Federal Government by presenting a controversial medical report, claiming he is unwell.
The Enugu-born businessman is standing trial for falsely petitioning the Federal Government, alleging that Chairman, Zinox Group, Leo Stan Ekeh and others colluded in defrauding it and his company in executing an N170m contract from the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS).
At the resumption of the trial on Thursday, November 3, 2022, before Honourable Justice Peter Kekemeke of the High Court of the FCT, Abuja, Benjamin Joseph, who has repeatedly refused to close his defense in the criminal case filed against him by the Inspector General of Police, was conspicuously missing in court. His defense counsel, Bob James, presented an application for adjournment on the grounds that his client is ill and could, therefore, not attend the court sitting. Furthermore, he attached a medical report from a hospital in Ibadan.
However, the prosecution lawyer, Simon Lough (SAN) raised an objection to the said application for adjournment. The Learned Silk urged the court to strike out the document on the grounds that it was not from a public hospital. Responding, the defense counsel argued that S.255 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (2015) did not make provision for a specific hospital and that his application should be granted.
Ruling on the application, the court frowned at the development.
The court observed that the letterhead is that of a state hospital while the body of the letter makes reference to Zenith Hospital, a private establishment and declared the said medical report a sham. The court further noted that there must be an end to litigation. Nevertheless, the court conceded to give the defendant one last opportunity and adjourned to January 24, 2023, for the continuation of the defense.
The ongoing case relates to a 2012 credit sale of HP Laptops to Citadel Oracle Concepts Limited on an interest-free credit facility when they could not fund the contract awarded to them by FIRS to supply laptops, along with twelve other companies. Two directors of Technology Distributions, Barr. Chris Eze Ozims and Folashade Oyebode, had been appointed signatories to a bank account opened by Citadel for the disbursement of the funds for the contract, solely as security/guarantee for the laptops supplied on credit and in view of previous bad experiences from other creditors of TD. After the FIRS paid all suppliers who were funded by Technology Distribution (TD), the other companies paid TD the pre-agreed invoice value.
However, Mr. Benjamin Joseph, the MD of Citadel, tried to divert TD’s fund but his partner Princess Kama resisted that move. After TD was paid, a dispute arose between Benjamin Joseph and his partner, Princess Kama, on profit sharing. At a point, Chief Afe Babalola, SAN who was Counsel to Benjamin Joseph, tried to intervene and cause an amicable settlement of the profit-sharing dispute. But Benjamin Joseph wanted the entire money without paying TD.
It was at this point that he changed the story and contended that he was not aware of the contract and that his company was used to defraud FIRS. However, during the investigation by Nigerian Police and EFCC, the FIRS provided proof that Benjamin Joseph was indeed aware of the contract and that all the ordered computers were fully supplied and received by the FIRS. In addition, Mr. Benjamin Joseph again reported the matter to the Special Fraud Unit (SFU) of the Nigerian Police Force, Milverton Road, Ikoyi. The SFU conducted investigations and indicted him on the basis that a forensic analysis report showed that he signed the board resolution which he alleged was forged. He thereafter lodged another petition to the Police Headquarters, Abuja, and after a thorough investigation, it was found again that his allegations were false. It was on the basis of that finding that he was charged to court in 2016 in Charge No: CR/216/2016 (IGP vs. Benjamin Joseph) before Justice Kekemeke of the High Court of the FCT, Abuja for giving false information.
This, however, did not stop Mr. Benjamin Joseph from embarking on a media trial, publishing a series of sponsored fake news against Mr. Ekeh, with the intent to blackmail him as confirmed by his former partner, Princess Kama. Kama, who was responsible for helping Joseph win the bid for the FIRS contract, had recently come out to state that Joseph was an ingrate who had attempted to divert the entire funds for the contract without paying for the laptops supplied to them on credit, despite being the beneficiary of an interest-free credit facility from Technology Distributions Ltd. without which it would have been unable to execute the contract. According to her, Joseph failed in convincing her to go along with his dastardly plans; he had attempted to take all the profits from the deal against their pre-agreed sharing percentage – a move she also resisted.
Equally important, the Police (Prosecution) has closed their case since 2018 and Mr. Benjamin Joseph has been called upon by the Court to open his defense. Instead of proceeding with the said defense to a conclusion, he has devised different tactics in his bid to sway the AGF to discontinue the criminal charge preferred against him. Interestingly, the law firm of Falana & Falana had earlier in 2018 applied to the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) by a letter dated November 1, 2018, for a fiat to prosecute Ekeh, his wife and other persons mentioned in the articles Joseph had consistently sponsored in the media. In order to convince the office of the AGF, Mr. Joseph submitted some spurious reports said to have been issued in 2015 and in 2020 by the Nigerian Police, which his solicitors again used to apply for another fiat. However, the Nigerian Police Headquarters Abuja, by a comprehensive report dated December 1, 2020, discredited and disclaimed all those reports relied upon by Mr. Benjamin Joseph, which was used to convince the AGF to grant a fiat in May 2022.
On this basis and upon a critical review of all documents relating to the case, the office of the AGF saw through the falsehood and issued a new letter to the Police dated June 6, 2022, directing the Police to continue the prosecution of Benjamin Joseph and bring the criminal charge against him to a logical conclusion. This letter was brought to the attention of the court by counsel to the Nigerian Police through their letter dated September 26, 2022.
Meanwhile, the Federal Government has also ordered the withdrawal of the charges purportedly filed by Femi Falana (SAN) against Ekeh, his wife and others. The directive was issued via the office of the Attorney General of the Federation (AGF) and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN) and communicated in a letter dated October 28, 2022, from the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) of the Federation, to the law firm of Falana and Falana.
The letter was signed by M. B. Abubakar, Director of Public Prosecutions of the Federation on behalf of the Attorney General and Minister of Justice.
Consequently, by this letter, the Charge No: FCT/HC/CR/469/2022, purportedly filed by Falana & Falana against Mr. Leo Stan Ekeh, Chioma Ekeh, Chris Eze Ozims, Shade Oyebode, Charles Adigwe, and others, is no longer tenable and now baseless. A copy of this letter, which was issued by the FG after a review of the facts of the matter, has been communicated to the chambers of Mathew Burkaa SAN, legal counsel for Mr. Ekeh and others, under cover of a letter dated Monday 31st October 2022 from the Office of the DPP of the Federation on behalf of the Attorney General of the Federation, reconfirming the withdrawal of the authorization earlier given to Falana & Falana and directing them to discontinue the said Charge no. FCT/HC/CR/469/2022.
This, therefore, lays to rest the allegations bandied about by Mr. Benjamin Joseph of Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, that Mr. Ekeh and the other persons mentioned in the various publications are to be arraigned in court on 8th November 2022. Rather, it is on this date that the firm of Falana & Falana is supposed to appear in court and formally withdraw the said Charge no. FCT/HC/CR/469/2022, following the clear directives of the Honourable Attorney General of the Federation.