By Eric Elezuo
Victory came the way of Drexel Tech Nigeria Limited, penultimate week when the Federal High Court, sitting in Abuja, and presided over by Hon Justice Nnamdi O. Dimgba, delivered a landmark judgement.
On April 30, 2013, Drexel Tech Nigeria Limited, a legitimately incorporated company in Nigeria, with oversea affiliates, entered a legally binding and transparent agreement with the Ministry of the Interior, under the supervision of the then minister, Mr. Abba Moro, to design, develop, and maintain a web based platform for the online enlistment of applicants into agencies of the ministry of interior and the contract a Public, Private Partnership at zero cost to government. The choice of Drexel was predicated on its ability to use the best of technological know-how for which it has been known in the past years.
The recruitment was schedule for March 2014 across stadia in major cities of Nigeria. Unfortunately however, it was met with misfortune as more than the shortlisted candidates turned up for the test at the various centres. The resultant stampede reportedly claimed 16 lives and injured many others. Ever since, the legitimately signed contract has become an object of litigation.
The agreement brokered between the ministry and Drexel stipulated as follows:
“The ministry is desirous of introducing the use of information technology in order to improve, automate and manage all her recruitment processes into the paramilitary services, to increase efficiency and transparency.
“The ministry wishes to automate all her enlistment and recruitment processes of its paramilitary service namely, Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), Nigeria Fire Service (NFS), Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Nigeria Prison Service (NPS)
“In light of the above, the ministry is desirous of engaging the services of Drexel for the design, development, implementation and maintenance of a web-based platform, which will provide online enlistment and registration exercise for the ministry and its paramilitary service.”
As the agreement specifies the actual job description of each party, it stated in paragraph 2.1.8 part of the ministry’s duties as follows, “be responsible for the actual conduct for the qualifying examination, interview, selection and furnish Drexel with a list of successful applicants and other required information for the performance of services set out in this agreement.”
Drexel Tech Nigeria Limited has earlier been charged alongside three other defendants including Abba Moro Patrick, Anastasia M. Daniel Nwobia and F. O. Alayebami in an eleven (11) count amended charge dated and filed on on 21/01/18, which superseded an earlier charge, filed and dated 21/10/16, two years after the incident took place.
The eleven count charges bordered on fraud, negligence, and favoritism against the defendants, who were government officials in 2014 when the incident occurred. Much as all the accused pleaded not guilty to the charges, a prolonged trial ensued and progressed seamlessly till it terminated on 25/11/19 when the Federal Government, who was the Prosecution, closed its case.
During the 22-months long trial, the Federal Government had called 12 witness which the court labelled PW1 to PW12 . All witnesses, which include high profiled officers, among whom was former Controller General (CG) of the Nigeria Immigration Services (NIS), Mr. David Shifu Paradang, had testified in a bid to prove that the amended charges as brought in by the Prosecution were true. In the same vein, 57 exhibits were tendered.
However, when it was time for the defence to file its defence against the allegations of the prosecution, it filed a ‘No Case Submission’, thereby urging the court to discharge and acquit them ‘on the basis that on a totality of the evidence adduced by the Prosecution, no prima facie case has been established to sustain the charge against them’.
Lending credence to the absence of a prima facie case, Justice Dimgba stated that “At the end, the defendants, did not believe that the Prosecution, by the evidence, hadn’t made out a sufficient case to warrant them being called upon to open their defence. They therefore, opted to make a No Case Submission in line with Section 303 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015.”
It was a therefore, a calm and calculated Justice Dimgba, that went ahead to dissect the presentations of the Prosecution and arrived at a decision. While he denied the No Case Submission proffered by the first three defendants vis a vis Abba Moro Patrick, Anastasia M. Daniel Nwobia and F. O. Alayebami in that order in counts 2, 4, 6 and 11, and urged them to open the defence, the Justice totally set Drexel Tech Nigeria Limited free on all counts they were charged, saying that Drexel, represented by S. I. Ameh, has no case to answer, and were thereby discharged and acquitted.
Hear him: “I uphold the No Case Submission of the 4th Defendant in relation to counts 1, 8, 9 and 10, where it was charged. Being the only counts where it was charged, I hereby discharge and acquit the 4th Defendant of these counts, and thus set it free from further participation in this Amended Charge dated 23/01/18.
Drawing inferences from the cases of Okafor vs The State (2015) 12 WRN 100 of 109 and Registered Trustees of the Synagogue Church of All Nations vs The State (2018) LPELR-46631 (CA), Justice Dimgba clarified that it is not the requirement of the law that a defendant should be directed to open his defence just for fancy or for fun, and subsequently considered all counts and found Drexel and as charged, and proceeded to acquit them.
In one of the counts, which read thus: “That you Abba Moro Patrick, Anastasia M. Daniel Nwobia and F. O. Alayebami, Mahmood Ahmadu (At Large) and Drexel Tech Nigeria Limited on or about the 17th of March, 2013 at Abuja within the jurisdiction of this honorable court with intent to defraud conspired to induce a total of 675, 675 (Six Hundred and Seventy Five Thousand Six Hundred and Seventy Five) Nigerian job applicants seeking employment with Nigeria Immigration Service to deliver property to wit: cumulative sum of N675, 675, 000 (Six Hundred and Seventy Five million, Six Hundred and Seventy Five Thousand Naira which sum represents the sum of N1, 000 (One Thousand Naira) per applicant to Drexel Tech Nigeria Limited under the false pretense that the money represents e-payment for their online recruitment exercise into Nigeria Immigration Service and which pretense you knew was false contrary to section 8, and 1 (1) (b) and punishable under section 1 (3) of the Advanced Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act, No 14 of 2006.”
In his review, Justice Dimgba noted among many lapses on the part of the Prosecution, including inability to produce a single witness among the victims that “what is clear is that the e-recruitment portal was indeed provided by the 4th Defendant pursuant to contract entered with the Government through exhibit AAFD55, and the applicants paid the access fee for this vacancy in order fill vacancies for NIS for which approvals had already been given by the Federal Government. following successful access of the e-portal by the applicants, the physical aspect of the recruitment was then done…” He concluded that the charge made no legal sense, and therefore, expunged in totality.
The process followed other counts where Drexel and its alter ego were mentioned, and with superior legal arguments and incontrovertible facts, were set aside, leading to the unconditional discharge of Drexel.
The court observed that Drexel performed its functions as prescribed and binding by the agreement between it and the Ministry of Interior, noting that it even invested its own N45 million to kick start to project without receiving a dime from the ministry. This, among others, made it possible for the court to read between the lines, coming to the inescapable understanding that Drexel was not in any way fraudulent as far as the contract was concerned, but received due fees as agreed upon in the drawn agreement.
In view of the above, one point seems settled, and that is the fact that Drexel Tech Ltd appears completely innocent of whatever happened at the various stadia as it didn’t constitute part of its contract and where it is believed that poor management and lack of personnel by the ministry and NIS led to the stampede, which eventually killed 16 Nigerians, and Justice Dimgba was quick to point that out, setting the stage for the company’s discharge.
Below is the detailed Court judgment…