Former President, Goodluck Jonathan’s cousin, Aziboala Robert, opened his defence Tuesday at the Federal High Court, Abuja, saying he was unnecessarily being punished for serving his country.
Aziboala made the claim as he opened his defence on the allegation by the federal government that he and his company, One Plus Holding Ltd took possession and converted the sum of $40m received from Office of the former National Security Adviser, Sambo Dasuki, to personal use.
Led in evidence by his counsel, Goddy Uche, Aziboala narrated how he has been at the forefront of human rights activism and environmental campaign prior to his current situation.
He traced his activism back to his university days as a member of several pro democracy groups that fought the military regimes of ex Generals Ibrahim Babangida and late Sank Achacha for the soul f the nation.
Mr and Mrs Stella Aziboala were initially charged with seven-count charge including their company, One Plus Holding Ltd, over an allegation that they received $40m contract from the embattled former National Security Adviser.
While Mrs Aziboala was discharged and acquitted of the charges, her husband was however not as lucky as the court ordered that he opend his defence in two of the 9 count charge.
Trial judge, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, in discharging Stella, in respect of counts 2 and 3, held that, just because Aziboala is a spouse of the 2nd defendant, is not enough to charge her. “Criminal liability is personal; it is not vicarious”, the judge had said.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) charged the couple in 2016.
The prosecution closed its case, after calling 10 witnesses who testified against the defendants.
But the defendants, responding through their counsel, Chris Uche, SAN filed a no-case-submission, insisting that the federal government had failed to establish a prima-facie case that would warrant them to enter defence.
Justice Dimgba, ruling on the no-case-submission, in May this year held that Aziboala (1st defendant) and his company, One Plus Holding Ltd (3rd defendant) have explanation to make in respect of counts 2 and 3 and subsequently ordered them to respond to the charges.
In count 2 and 3, Robert Aziboala and his company, were accused of being in possession and conversion of the sum of $40m received from Dasuki into personal use.
It was claimed that the $40m released from the office of the former NSA to Aziboala and One Plus Holding Ltd was meant for the procurement of tactical communication kits.
“By the exhibits, the sum of $40m was sent to the 3rd defendant purportedly for the supply of tactical communication kits for Special Forces on the instruction of former NSA, Dasuki.
“But there was no evidence that any such thing was supplied even though there were some suggestions in exhibits that the sum was for some other security assignments.”
However, at yesterday ‘s sitting, the defendant narrated that apart from being chairman of several companies, he was also said his activism spanned from his university days to pro democracy activism and environmental crusader.
Aziboala told the court that he founded the Nigerian Delta Human and Environmental Rescue Operation as well as being a member of several non governmental organizations committed to fighting for the common man and championing the crusade against environmental degradation in the Niger Delta.
As president of Niger Delta-HERO, Aziboala said he led several protests as an activist to protect Niger Delta region and Nigerians in general and the fundamental human rights of everybody that is alive.
Laying the foundation for his evidence in chief, he told the court that he led the Movement for the Survival of Ogoni People (MASOP) at a point, to advance the cause of Ogoni people.
More so, Aziboala stated that in the cause of campaigning for the enthronement of democracy, “I was arrested and detained by the State Security Service and other agencies.
“My Lord, I have served Nigeria and I am conscious of the fact of coming from the minority. I interfaced with virtually every pro democracy activist in this country.
“For my sake, the late Ken Saro Wiwa was arrested. He was my mentor, sponsor and father. When he was killed, I abandoned law practice and became a pro democracy and environmental activist, Aziboala narrated.
He said he abandoned law practice in protest against the system of judicial murder of Saro Wiwa on November 10, 1995 “and dedicated my life to the service of humanity”
The defendant disclosed that because of his activism, he embarked on several international speaking tours on behalf of Nigeria and Nigerians.
“At a point, people I recommended VISAS for were given because if my background as a human rights promoter and environmental protection agent.
However, the prosecutoe, Sylvanus Tahir, raised an objection.
He said the defendant was going off track and asked the court to espounge all he said from its records because his testimony had no relationship with the charge.
“My lord, I the evidence of the defendant is off track and irrelevant on the basis of Section 1 of the Evidence Act”, Tahir stated.
He said the charge which the defendant is facing was in relation to money laundering and has nothing to do with pro democracy activism and environmental issues.
Tahir insisted that none of the charge that the defendant is facing deals with extraneous matter such as the obnoxious aspects being delved into by the defendant.
Reacting, Chris Uche SAN, who held briefly for his brother Goddy, said, ” I am taking aback by the objection of the prosecution counsel.”
He therefore asked the court to discountenance it for being “inappropriate and inapplicable”.
“This is a criminal trial, it is not a civil proceeding. It is not a matter that is regulated by pleadings but a trial which the defendant has the constitutional right under section 36(5)(b) to be given adequate opportunity to tell his own side of the story.
Uche argued that it did not lie on the mouth of the prosecutor to tell the defendant how to tell his story.
“It is premature for the prosecution counsel to speak for the court by determining a testimony that is relevant or not.
He therefore urged the court to dismiss the objection.
However, in his ruling, Justice Dimgba dismissed the objection as lacking in merit.
The court said the testimony of the defence witness (DW1) was relevant and useful in relation to the testimony of prosecution witness 10,.
The Court adjourned to today (Wednesday) for continuation of trial.
FELIX OMOHOMHION, ABUJA