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Why court dismissed criminal charges against Ohakim

By Duncan Odey
24 August 2021   |   4:17 am
The case that saw the former Governor of Imo State, Dr. Ikedi Ohakim face multiple criminal charges began with a friendship that started in November 2018, in Arondizuogu, Imo state between him and Ms. Chinyere Amuchienwa Igwegbe.

Ikedi Ohakim

The case that saw the former Governor of Imo State, Dr. Ikedi Ohakim face multiple criminal charges began with a friendship that started in November 2018, in Arondizuogu, Imo state between him and Ms. Chinyere Amuchienwa Igwegbe. The friendship later blossomed and developed to a close personal and political relationship. Unfortunately, that smooth relationship collapsed into allegations of blackmail that have become a subject of multiple litigations before several law courts.

Ms. Igwegbe stirred the hornet’s nest when she granted a libellous interview to Premium Times, which was published August 18, 2020. In the interview, she made allegations against Dr. Ohakim, which bordered on his integrity, character and moral turpitude.

Why admitting the fact that she had a relationship with the former Imo state governor, she explained that the quarrel between her and Ohakim was about some money she alleged he took from her and was yet to pay back. “I am an adult and I am entitled to date anybody I choose to,” she reportedly told Premium Times.

Ms. Igwegbe who further described Ohakim as a “scammer” alleged that the former governor visited her shop in Lagos and carted away designer’s suitcase, bags, shoes, and other luxury goods, which he has allegedly refused to pay for.

“I kept asking Ohakim every day, ‘what do you do for a living?’ Ohakim brought land document and showed to me, he said the land belonged to him. The land is on the airport road in Lagos, he even took us there. He said he was waiting for payment from the buyer of the land and that when they pay him he would be able to pay me my money.

“It was when this trouble started that we discovered the land didn’t belong to him. It is this land he has been using to scam me. The witnesses who are aware that I gave him money have volunteered their statement to the police,” the woman claimed.

Beside the media forays against Ohakim, she also wrote several petitions against him. She petitioned the Inspector General of Police (IGP) and the National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP). In these Petitions, she made allegations that Ohakim photoshopped her nude video.

Prior to that, Ohakim himself had also written a petition to the IGP, alleging blackmail, harassment, threats and subornation of false claims against her. In that petition, Ohakim had revealed names of prominent Nigerians she had allegedly blackmailed in the recent past with similar false allegations. But instead of investigating the petition, police and NAPTIP began to harass Ohakim with incessant invitations, which were sensationally published in the media.

In the meantime, she had roped in another accomplished Nigerian from her community named Chinedu Okpalaeke, who she had also accused of assisting Ohakim to “photoshop” her nude video. She took the matter to the Police Special Anti Robbery Squad (SARS) in Abuja, by which five SARS officers travelled to Lagos and arrested Okpalaeke by 5am and forced him to pay for their flight back to Abuja, where he was detained and his phones confiscated.

It took the intervention of Emeka Etiaba (SAN) before Okpalaeke was released and charged to Court. The police later discontinued the matter after it discovered that the petitioner had supplied false information against Okpalaeke. Later, she filed civil action against Okpalaeke on the same matter of nude video, but the matter was dismissed early August for lacking in merit.

Consequent upon the harassments, Ohakim, in September 2020, file two applications for the enforcement of his fundamental rights against the police, NAPTIP and Igwegbe. Ohakim had, through his counsel, Aloy Ejimakor, also secured an ex parte order against these parties; but in a strange twist, police disobeyed the order and filed two separate charges against Ohakim before the FCT High Court and Federal High Court, Abuja.

Meanwhile, Igwegbe had, in addition to the petitions to NAPTIP and police, filed civil action against Ohakim on the same set of facts complained of in her petitions. And to clear his name from the mounting allegations against him, Ohakim also filed a N5 billion libel suit against her before the High Court of Imo state for publishing defamatory falsehoods against him, including an audio that went viral, which accused Ohakim of photoshopping nude videos of women. While Ohakim’s civil action is still pending, the FCT High Court for lacking in merit has since dismissed that of Igwegbe.

In his supporting affidavit to his civil suit marked HOW /888/2020, Ohakim narrated how he met the defendant in Arondizuogu, Imo State in November 2018, whereupon, they became friends and later developed a close relationship that was based on trust.

He averred that in the lead-up to the 2019 Imo Governorship Election, he constituted a ‘Campaign Council’ for the purpose of leading the electioneering campaign in the 27 Local Government Areas of Imo State; and the plaintiff appointed the defendant as a member of said council, to particularly coordinate the electioneering campaign in Ideato North LGA of Imo State.

That part of the powers, privileges and responsibilities of members of the said Special Campaign Council was to receive monies from the plaintiff and to also raise donations from third parties, all to be expended on items and purposes related to the electioneering campaign in their respective local government areas. All members of the campaign council were supposed to account for all money receipts and expenditures to the Plaintiff at the conclusion of the election.

According to him, at the conclusion of said election, all members of the campaign council except the defendant rendered accounts of all monies received and spent to the plaintiff and their various accounts were thereby closed.

Apart from disbursing some cash through Access-Diamond Bank, not amounting to more than N4 million and monies for airline tickets and hotel expenses for plaintiff’s two international travels, the defendant has so far refused to render account.
In addition to her refusal to render the said account and make refunds thereof, she turned hostile and resorted to various acts of slander, libel, defamation, intimidation, threats and even assault, which became unbearable to the point that the plaintiff petitioned the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) on January 20, 2020.

The former governor equally urged the court to declare that the defendant’s allegations and the viral audio she circulated were slanderous, libellous and defamatory.

He further sought an order of court directing the defendant to retract the allegations through another interview to same medium; and retract the audio through making another audio she would circulate through social media, including particularly WhatsApp Messenger.

Ohakim also sought an order of court directing the defendant to write and deliver to the plaintiff, an unreserved letter of apology, which should be prominently and boldly published full-page in two Nigerian newspapers of national circulation and two newspapers of local circulation in Imo State.

While these suits were pending, NAPTIP issued an Investigative Report exonerating Ohakim and then joined in an application brought by Ohakim’s counsel, Ejimakor, to terminate the fundamental rights actions pending before the High Court of Imo state in Owerri. Meanwhile, Ohakim was still facing the two charges marked FCT/HC/CR/993/2020 and FHC/ABJ/CS/287/2020, which bordered on alleged false information and alleged publishing nude pictures of the nominal complainant and the N500m she claimed she gave to Ohakim.

But in a protest letter dated January 8, 2021 by Ejimakor, the former Governor asked the IGP to withdraw the multiple criminal charges filed against him by the police. He also called for a comprehensive investigation of all the issues that gave rise to the multiple charges against him.

The letter titled ”Re: Unlawful and Malicious Prosecution, Harassment, Intimidation, Defamation and False Information against Dr Ohakim at the behest of Ms Chinyere Amuchienwa-Igwegbe” specifically drew the attention of the IGP to the two charges filed against him before the High Court of the FCT and the Abuja division of the Federal High Court.

He referred the IGP to his petition of January 20, 2020, wherein, he complained about the assault on his person by Igwegbe at a hotel in Abuja and other unlawful acts by her towards our client. That the complainant be required to produce self-authenticating evidence of having paid our client N500 million for a land that she clearly saw from the documents that do not belong to our client. For the avoidance of doubt, our client had a franchise to sell said land and he gave her the title documents on trust when she claimed she could get a buyer in return for partaking in the agency commission. It is a normal thing done customarily in Nigeria when it comes to selling any landed property.

That Igwegbe must produce credible evidence of how our client used said land (that is not in his name) to defraud her and other Nigerians and using the name of Babatunde Fashola, the Honorable Minister for Works, adding that mere allegations are utterly insufficient to ground the ongoing prosecution against him. That Ms Igwegbe must produce evidence of all the receipts and the name of the persons who took delivery of the items she claimed our client purchased from her in the amount of N110 million; and why she is variously stating the amount in Euros and Naira.

That the nude video upon which our client is now being charged be subjected to a thorough forensic investigation to determine, between our client and Igwegbe, who made the video; whether the video is real or photoshopped, who first sent the video out from the device with which it was made and the person(s) to whom the video was sent and when? That Ms Igwegbe is required to produce credible scientific or forensic evidence that our client is in the unholy business of making indecent videos of women in cahoots with others, as alleged and published by her in the said audio and on her various statements to the police and NAPTIP.

Following the petition, the police embarked on a new investigation of the matter, only to discover that the information supplied to them by Ms Igwegbe, which formed the basis of the two charges were false. The most significant evidence that confirmed the information as false relates to the contentious nude video, which was, through forensic analysis, found not to be photoshopped but a selfie made by the complainant herself.

Accordingly, on March 12, 2021, the police filed a notice of discontinuance before the High Court of the FCT in relation to charge No: CR/993/2020 against Ohakim. The notice of discontinuance was filed before the court by Rotshang Faith Dimka, of the Legal/Prosecution section, FCIID, Force Headquarters, Abuja. It reads: “Take notice that the complainant discontinues of all the proceedings in this case against Dr Ikedi Ohakim with the consent of all the parties.”

Sequel to the above, Ohakim was on March 16, 2021, discharged and acquitted by the court on the said charges. The police thereafter, proceeded to the Federal High Court, Abuja division, where it equally filed a notice of discontinuance in relation to charge No: FHC/ABJ/CS/287/2020 against Dr Ikedi Ohakim and Chinedu Okpareke. Rotshang Faith Dimka filed the notice of discontinuance dated March 15, 2021. Proceedings in relation to the notice of discontinuance is still pending before Justice Taiwo Taiwo.

All these are coupled with the fact that NAPTIP concluded its investigation and said the allegations of intimidation, emotional, verbal and psychological abuse made against Ohakim cannot be substantiated. The position of the agency is contained in its preliminary investigation report on the matter.

The NAPTIP report accordingly recommended that the case review committee should ‘discontinue the case as there is insufficient evidence to sustain the victim’s claim of being intimidated and abused emotionally, verbally and psychologically by the suspect.’

In the interim, having established the fact that it was misled into filing charges against the former Governor, the IGP moved against her for blackmailing Ohakim and for giving false information to the police. The police explained that fresh facts have emerged after the charges against Ohakim were preferred and which require reconsideration. Some of the fresh facts according to the police include the fact that “till date, the complainant, despite her numerous interactions with the Investigating Police Officers (IPOs), and the legal section, has not submitted any physical evidence of making the alleged N500m payment to the defendant.

The police said: “For a charge grounded on this payment to succeed, the complainant must submit physical evidence, such as her bank statement showing contemporaneous withdrawals (if payments were made in cash, as she alluded). Otherwise, a paper trial of monetary transfer to the defendant would have sufficed. But that is not the case here.

“In the audio, which was transcribed and deposed to by an expert, the complainant alleged that the defendant and another “photoshopped” her nude video, an issue in charge No: FHC/ABJ/CR/287/2020 before the Federal High Court. But till date, the complainant has not submitted any physical evidence from an expert that shows that the said nude video is a photoshop. It raises legal questions as to, between the defendant and the complainant, who in fact made the video.

The police added that the scientific analysis of the video shows that the video was self-produced, staged and deliberately made by the complainant. Accordingly, a four-count charge was filed against her before the High Court of the FCT, Abuja, by the IGP bordering on false information.

In the said charge signed by Matthew Omasun and Rotshang Faith Dimka, the police accused her of supplying false information to the it with the intention to defame the defendants.

Count one of the charge reads: “that you Chinyere Amuchienwa Igwegbe (f) of 7b Emeida Estate Apo, Abuja, FCT, on or about August 14, 2020, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court did furnish police authorities with false information and via allegations in a petition by your solicitors, Agala and Agala chambers to a public servant against (1) Dr. Ikedi Ohakim (2) Chinedu Okpareke on allegations of criminal conspiracy, criminal intimidation, defamation of character, attempted kidnapping and threat to life punishment with imprisonment, which could not be substantiated and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 140 of the penal code laws of Northen Nigeria.”

The prosecution said the offences are punishable under sections 140, of the Penal Code, laws of the Northern Nigeria and section 26 (3) of the Violence Against Persons (prohibition) Act, 2015. She has since been arrested, detained and charged to court by the police and in a subsequent arraignment, she was freed on bail.

It is instructive that the matter turned against the woman only after the police had taken time to investigate her allegations and found them to be all false. And this was after a strenuous effort by Ohakim and his Lawyer. This very fact makes one to wonder how many innocent people might be languishing in jail and their names ruined just because of un-investigated allegations. It is also a pointer to how vulnerable some eminent people can become at the hands of their former close associates, who may decide to turn rogue and resort to blackmail as a means of settling old scores or finessing some money.

Odey, a lawyer and legal analyst writes from Abuja.