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Supreme court and the slow grinding wheel of justice

The media in recent times have been awash with reports of proceedings emanating from the legal battle between a Nigerian business man who is Chairman of Inducon Nigeria Limited, Dr. John Abebe and an International Oil Company, Statoil Nigeria Limited. Dr. Abebe had in 2010 taken Statoil to court over the latter’s alleged refusal to fulfill the terms of agreement signed between him and British Petroleum (BP)/Statoil Alliance.

For the record, Dr. Abebe facilitated the coming of BP into Nigeria and helped to secure three deep offshore oil blocks with OPL 213, 217 and 218 for the BP-Statoil Alliance in 1991. Findings revealed that BP later vacated the block and the alliance with Statoil, but Statoil currently enjoys proceeds made from the oil blocks. Abebe, however, claims the agreement was for him to be paid 1.5 percent of the net profit made from the venture. Could the forgery case on Abebe be a ploy to deny him his entitlement?

Nine years after the case was filed and during which Abebe got judgment in his favour at both the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal, there seems to be no end in sight. Having followed developments on the case right from the beginning, it is rather disappointing that it has taken a turn for the theatrical since getting to the Supreme Court. Abebe may be a member of the much criticized Nigerian elite, but no Nigerian, privileged or not, deserves the kind of harassment and humiliation he has suffered in the hands of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over the alleged forgery he currently faces at the Special Offences Court.

Just recently, indications emerged that the evidence being dangled before the Special Offences Court in Ikeja, Lagos, in the prosecution of the Inducon Chairman over the forgery allegation, could be a ruse after all. The EFCC had in July 2018 arraigned Abebe before the court on a four-count charge of forgery, fabricating evidence and attempt to pervert the course of justice levelled against him by Statoil Nigeria Limited.

According to the charge sheet, the defendant was accused to have on June 22, 2010 knowingly forged a letter dated November 30, 1995 belonging to BP Exploration Nigeria Limited to that of his company, Inducon Nigeria Limited. The defendant pleaded not guilty to the charges. But at the recent sitting of the Special Offences Court, a defence witness and Deputy Director of the National Archives, Mrs. Roseline Ovesuor, informed the court that based on the provisions of sections 37 and 38 of the National Archives Act, it was an offence for companies registered in Nigeria to take their records outside the country. She made the revelation at the resumed hearing of the case before Justice Mojisola Dada.

Flowing from the argument, Mrs. Ovesuor, who said she has been working there for more than 30 years at the Department of National Archives of Nigeria, stated that by the provisions of sections 37 and 38 of the Act, it was an offence for a Nigerian company to take its records outside Nigeria.

The witness, who testified under examination-in-chief led by Counsel to Abebe, Uche Nwokedi (SAN), said the Department of National Archives is responsible for the management and preservation of documents of historical value in Nigeria for federal ministries, parastatals, agencies, commissions as well as private companies, institutions, multinational companies and individuals. She added that the National Archives is also mandated to assist ministries, agencies, and departments at the federal level, state level, private organisations, and business houses to establish their archives when necessary.

The defence witness testified that the National Archives Act is the law that regulates their activities and was promulgated in July 1992. She explained that in every organisation, public or private, there exist three levels of records: that is, current, semi-current and non-current. She noted that with an organisation, private or public, incorporated in Nigeria and is functioning in Nigeria, the law states such records must be housed by the organisation within the country where that organisation was established and is operating.

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