A waiting horde of spectators, lawyers, journalists and court staff including the judge, Mr. Adeniyi Onigbanjo, was today disappointed at the second consecutive absence for arraignment of Bi-Courtney chief, Mr. Wale Babalakin.
Mr. Babalakin, who is accused of laundering N4.7 billion for jailed former Delta State governor, James Ibori, is still hiding in the Lagos University Teaching Hospital [LUTH], into which he checked himself following his failure to appear in court the first time on November 29.
A lawyer for the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, revealed today that during the EFCC’s surveillance on Mr. Babalakin in LUTH, the suspect had pleaded with the commission’s operatives to allow him go home without being arrested, and for fear of arrest, hired private security guards to keep him closely guarded.
He noted that despite his claims of illness, Mr. Babalakin appeared to be a picture of health, and his request to be allowed to go home was turned down by the operatives who told him that if he departed from the hospital, he must show up in court. The EFCC’s insistence that he must show up in court made him to remain in the hospital.
Mr. Babalakin’s doctors told EFCC officials that their client is hypertensive, and the Bi-Courtney chief was administratively released after a director in his company, Mr. Biodun Layonu, stood surety for him a few weeks ago.
In court today, however, Mr. Layonu failed to provide Babalakin.
For Babalakin’s continued and mysterious absence, his lawyer, Mr. Ebun Sofunde, who had represented him during his absence on November 29, withdrew from the case. Bolaji Ayorinde, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, stood in to continue representing the suspect.
Mr. Ayorinde is son-in-law to former Supreme Court justice George Adesola Oguntade, The retired judge jointly owns a Lekki hotel with Babalakin.
The presiding judge, Mr. Onigbanjo, adjourned the case to 12 noon after waiting patiently for the suspect and listening to the plea of his lawyers.
At the resumed sitting, Mr. Babalakin’s lawyers pointed out that they had filed for adjournment, but the EFCC counsel said he did not receive the notice until about 6pm yesterday.
Justice Onigbanjo then adjourned the matter till January 17, 2013, when the EFCC must have responded to the application for adjournment. Mr. Jacobs told journalists after the court sitting that he suspected that all of the twists and turns were ploys by Mr. Babakalin and his lawyers to help him escape arraignment and trial.
On November 29, when Mr. Babalakin was expected to appear before Justice Onigbanjo, it was learned that he was at the Federal High Court applying for an order prohibiting his arraignment, while he had lied about the “illness” which he is currently feigning at LUTH.
Babalakin's application for that restraining order on the EFCC also continues tomorrow at the Federal High Court.
It would be recalled that only recently, the chairman of the EFCC, Mr. Ibrahim Lamorde, while defending the EFCC’s 2013 budget before the Senate Committee on Drugs, Narcotics and Financial Crimes, said that the agency has never successfully prosecuted Nigeria’s high profile looters because of the vast resources and money they have to delay court processes.