An eyewitness account of what transpired in the court room
By Ibrahim Muhammed
“A rumor is a social cancer: it is difficult to contain and it rots the brains of the masses. However, the real danger is that so many people find rumours enjoyable. That part causes the infection. And in such cases when a rumor is only partially made of truth, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly where the information may have gone wrong. It is passed on and on until some brave soul questions its validity; that brave soul refuses to bite the apple and let the apple eat him. Forced to start from scratch for the sake of purity and truth, that brave soul, figuratively speaking, fully amputates the information in order to protect his personal judgment. In other words, his ignorance is to be valued more than the lie believed to be true.” ― Criss Jami, Killosophy.
The journey that culminated in the conviction and sentencing of Ibrahim Garba Wala to 12 years in prison began on 26th of September 2017. On that day, IG Wala posted the following allegations in his facebook page “ Corruption in Hajj Commission! Official Documents made available to CATBAN reveals that the Chairman of NAHCON after 2017 Hajj operations makes not less than N3Billion for himself. In the interim, CATBAN tends to question how NAHCON expended the total sum of N97, 906,500,000 (almost hundred billion) accrued from the payment of N1.5 million by each individuals that made up the 65, 271 being the total number of Nigeria Muslim Pilgrims for 2017 Hajj.
Before I chronicle the timelines of the proceedings in the criminal defamation suit in the FCT High Court; NAHCON Chairman had earlier instituted a N100 million civil defamation suit against IG Wala at the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory.
First, it was Jafaar Jafaar who try to broker peace between Ibrahim Garba Wala and NAHCON Chairman so that he (IG Wala) can get the Chairman side of the story as dictated by ethics of journalism, The request was turned down by IG Wala and said that he has his facts.
The move was turned down by IG Wala.
Secondly, on 8th of January 2018. I have a chat with a respectable social media critics who is based in Lagos, Femi Animashaun over IG Wala vs NAHCON Chairman on facebook. We both agreed that as a friend and a brother, we should do whatever it takes to bring the two men to table. I proposed to him that I will endeavor to impress it on Abdullahi Mukhtar to grants an open audience to IG Wala along with other social media activists to get his own side of the story.
Femi Animasaun also promised to contact IG Wala and get back to me. On 11th January 2018, Femi called me that IG Wala vehemently rejects any form of out of Court settlements because he has his facts to prove the allegations before any court.
Back to the legal proceedings.
On 2nd October 2017, Professor Dankofa acting on behalf of his client had wrote a letter to IG Wala urging him to cease making unsubstantiated allegations against his client (Barr Abdullahi Mukhtar) and apologies within 7 days failure which he will be sued.
No response from IG Wala.
Then on 9th of October 2017, Professor Dankoffa again acting on behalf of his client, Barr Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammed instituted a N100 million civil defamation suit with SUIT NO FCT/HC/CV/2017 at High Court sitting in Abuja.
IG Wala was served same day at the following address: C/O Citizen action to take back Nigeria 3rd floor Suite 008, Transpharm Plaza, Opposite jabi Motor Park Utako.
However on the 23rd of October 2017 after receiving the originating processes of the Court. These are the exact words of what he posted in his Facebook page.
“Corrupt Government Officials always have confidence
in Nigerian Courts, because it is a place where bribery
graduates into corruption”.
On 24th of October 2017, he made another post that:
“Make no mistake, I rather walk to the doors of prison than
to allow Abdullahi Muktar to have a field day in his
corrupt activities as the chairman of NAHCON.
He can steal the billions from the Hajj Commission,
I will not be silence with a threat of a billion naira lawsuit.”
Following further damaging and unrelenting publications despite the above pending suit, NAHCON Chairman wrote a petition to Inspector General of Police. The petition leads to arrest of IG Wala and was slam with criminal defamation suit in FCT High Court.
With the above, you will be tempted to believe that IG Wala will admit that he made those allegations and even make attempt to justify them with facts in the Court.
Lo and behold, IG Wala defense team said their clients name is Ibrahim Garba Wala and not IG Wala (being a profile name in his Facebook page and therefore he is not the one who made the allegations in the facebook page with profile name “IG Wala”
Paragraph 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 and 8 of the witness statement of defense dated 25th of August 2018, IG Wala stated as follows: “That I Ibrahim Garba Wala , Male. Adult, Muslim and Nigeria Citizen of No 39B Denube Street, Maitama Abuja do hereby make oath and state as follows: That I am the defendant in this Suit,
“That I personally did not know the plaintiff but I was aware that he is the Chairman of National Hajj Commission and did not know the exact year the plaintiff was appointed as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of National Hajj Commission of Nigeria”
“That I have been reading on the pages of newspaper, as well as hearing on Radio and TV of the cry of both hajj and umrah operations with regards financial recklessness going on in the hajj commission”
“That I never owned a facebook account referred to as “IG Wala” as my name is Ibrahim Garba Wala, being the name contain in this suit”
“That the said publication made on 26th of September 2017 was purportedly or allegedly made by “IG Wala” not me”
“That the said publications which are purportedly false, reckless, malicious and highly defamatory in connotations are written in the facebook account of “IG Wala” not the defendant and that it is evidently clear from the name of the account which the purported publication were made is different from my name”.
Again, Prince Emeka Emeruele Esq during cross examination of IG Wala on 4th of October told the Court that his client did not makes the post. Prince Emeka Emeruele Esq of the defense team was reacting to a 32 page Exhibit tendered by an IT Expert which contained forensic analyses of IG Wala facebook page, His Lawyer told the Court that what is written in the profile name is IGWALA and not Ibrahim Garba Wala.
This position was further supported by Barr Abubakar Sadiq, the lead counsel to IG Wala in the criminal defamation suit when he was cross examining IT Expert brought by the police. He asked “Do you believe that someone can hack facebook page? The IT expert said yes, but not in this case,
Again, Paragraph 13 of the statement of defense tendered before the court by the defense averred “That the whole essence of this suit is to embarrass me as I know nothing of this case” A clear and unambiguous denial by the defense.
On 19th of April 2018, the presiding Judge, Justice Haliru had earlier ruled against the preliminary application filed by the Defence lawyer arguing that the nominal complainer (NAHCON Chairman) had earlier filed a civil suit at Federal High Court against his client (IBRAHIM GARBA WALA) and therefore cannot institute another case on same subject matter.
Dismissing the objection, the judge argued that civil case and criminal case can be instituted on same case concurrently and therefore that the case will proceed.
However, an IT consultant Yusuf Adams engaged by the Police told the Court that the defendant (IG Wala) has started tampering with the profile of his Facebook page which he used to published the said defaming publication against NAHCON and NAHCON Chairman. He gives tip by tip analysis of the publications made by IG Wala likes the comments, those who share it, those who likes the publications and numbers of people that read it.
The Chairman of NAHCON Barr Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammed who is appearing in the court for the first time, answered allegations made by IG WALA on page by page basis and told the Court that he has never been found wanting by any Court of Law throughout his 25 years career in the field of hajj management. On the contrary, he told the Court that the late President Umar Musa Yaradua honoured him with MON solely because of his achievement in the field of hajj operations.
During cross examination, Counsel to IG WALA asked the IT expert whether Facebook page can be hacked or not – insinuating that the video, screengrab evidence brought against his client is not his publications thereby denying that IG WALA had not publish anything against NAHCON Chairman or NAHCON.
IG WALA ORAL DEFENSE
IG wala said he is a member of coalition of civil society and said his Facebook account Is Ibrahim G Wala and twitter handle Ibrahim Garba Wala and Said he did not publish anything to incite anyone against NAHCON Chairman and that he does not know where the Exhibit B (that contains details of publication made against NAHCON Chairman) comes from.
This is what transpired During Cross examination of IG Wala by Lead Prosecuting Counsel, Barr LABARAN:
Labaran: You deny the allegations in COUNT B and by implication you detach yourself from CATBAN
IG Wala : Yes
Labaran: Did you make statement to the police in the course of investigation?
IG Wala: Yes.
Labaran: See Exhibit D
Labaran: Is that the statement you made to the Police
IG Wala: yes
Labaran: You said you are a member of coalition of civil society organisations
IG Wala: Yes
Labaran: How many of you founded the said coalition?
IG Wala: It was founded by groups of organizations
Labaran: in every organisation there are members
IG Wala: Yes
Labaran: Which of the organisation do you belong to that qualify you to belong to the coalition?
IG Wala: We have individual that has the capacity to belong to coalition I am one of such individual
Labaran: from your evidence, I will then be correct to say that you have no connection with the publications in Exibit “B”
IG Wala: Yes and it has been alleged that I generated it.
Labaran: Who is the publisher in the video clips earlier played in the Court tendered and admitted as Exibit C”
IG Wala: It is me
(The Video clip is part of forensic evidence extracted from the same facebook page which he earlier denied)
Labaran: What is your profile name on facebook?
IG Wala: Ibrahim Garba Wala
Labaran: Whose picture is in Exibit D
IG Wala: It is my picture, obviously.
Labaran: What is the name in the profile picture?
IG Wala: Ibrahim Garba Wala
Intrestingly, Barr Labaran who is leading prosecuting team during cross examination asks the IT Expert brought by IG wala that “who asks him to come to the court and he said “IG Wala and his team of lawyers” He was asks again and repeat that “IG Wala and his legal team” He was asks further “Who is IG Wala and he pointed at Ibrahim Garba Wala (IG Wala) in the dock. He was pinch further “Do you know him with another name and he said no. So what is the IG in the Wala and he said “ Ibrahim Garba Wala”
The matter cames up on July 15th 2019. IG Wala told the court that he has lost confidence in his defense team lead by Abubakar Sadiq because according to him “He hails from Zaria, the home town of the nominal complainant and therefore pleads that the Court gave him time to look for new lawyer that will represents him”
The prosecuting counsel argued that it was a delay tactics being employed by the IG Wala but the Court grants a three months adjournment to enable IG Wala secure another lawyer. The case was adjourned to October 4th 2018 for the defendant to open his defense.
However, on the resume hearing date, it was the same counsel Abubakar Sadiq whom IG Wala rejected that prompted the Court to adjourned the case for three month that announces his appearance for IG Wala. He then request for another adjournment to be able to bring in witnesses for their defense
The prosecuting Counsel, Labaran has this to say “We vehemently oppose this request. My Lord, this case has taken reasonably long period and series of adjournment at the instance of the defendant. My Lord of recent, was the adjournment granted on the request of the defendant himself by reason of telling this Honourable Court that he is no longer interested in the counsel who is seeking for this adjournment today, He disown him in open Court and appealed to your lordship to grants him a reasonable time within which to secure another counsel. My Lord to be specific, he emphasized lack of confidence in him. My Lord in the court usual magnanimity, another adjournment was granted for upward of three month. It was just last week that the case resumed with another Counsel appearing different from the one that appear today.
However, the defense counsel argued that they might have had a misunderstanding with his client but today, they have reconcile and he is now representing him and that the defendant cannot deny him in the court now.
The defense counsel requested for short adjournment to bring in witnesses namely: Suleiman Sabo from Saudi Arabia and Otunla Oloyewa an IT expert whom he said has traveled to Ghana.
Now, who is Suleiman Sabo popularly known as Ibrahim Suleiman Yusuf that IG Wala defense team promise to invite from Saudi Arabia as witness?
Daily Trust Investigative story of 23rd April 2017 will suffice: The story is titled “How Kano Pilgrims Lost N460 Million to Accommodation Scam”
Part of the story: “Investigations by this newspaper have shown that these pilgrims were among the 2,405 Kano pilgrims whose Mecca accommodation was provided by a Saudi-based Nigerian service provider, Island Economic Group.
This service provider, owned by Ibrahim Suleiman Yusuf, lodged the pilgrims in three accommodation facilities thus: Saifuddeen Burhanuddeen 1, with a 714 pilgrims capacity; Saifuddeen Burhanuddeen 2 with 836 capacity and Saifuddeen Burhanuddeen 3, with 855 capacity.
Official documents analysed by our reporters revealed that Mr Yusuf, popularly known as Ibrahim Sabo Lagos, was one of the beneficiaries of the N460 million accommodation subsidy paid by Kano State.
Suleiman Sabo Company , Island Economic Group, was paid 1.54 million Saudi Riyals (N185 million) by Kano State government, on June 9, 2016, about seven days before the deputy governor announced the accommodation subsidy.
The Kano State Pilgrims Welfare Board paid the N185 million cash to the company, “being government subsidy in respect of 2016 Makkah accommodation” on June 9, 2016.
The company acknowledged receipt of the money through a receipt voucher with a number: 4031059023.
Findings revealed that the service providers hire houses from real owners at prices less than SR2,000 and collected SR4000 from the pilgrims and outrageous subsidy from states.
In the case of Island Economic Group, the company hired houses at SR2500 but collected SR4000 from NAHCON and additional SR1.54million from Kano State as subsidy for accommodation.
The official said the company got about SR5000 for each bed space for the Shahrul Mansoor accommodation even though they hired it from the landlords at SR2500. But the company was paid SR4000 by NAHCON and SR1.54 million from the state.
The elimination of accommodation agents, despite saving hundreds millions for pilgrims didn’t go down well with some beneficiaries of the state subsidies.
A Saudi-based group known as the Nigerian Arewa Foundation, chaired by the owner of Island Economic Group, petitioned the House of Representatives, accusing NAHCON chairman of corruption and describing its reform as attempt to sending them out of business.
“Our foundation members have no other means of living than this business and we are bonafide Nigerians who feel also that we deserve legislative fair hearing,” the chairman of Island Economic Group, said.
Yusuf said he was acting on behalf of “158 registered ” members of the “Nigerian business community” in Saudi Arabia, attaching a four-page list containing names, phone numbers and signatures, but obviously without mentioning the names of their businesses.
Our reporters spoke to about 35 people whose names and numbers were attached to the foundation petition. in the petition, picked randomly.
They said they were not hajj service providers, “but Nigerians living in Saudi Arabia who are recruited annually by NAHCON and other state pilgrims boards as adhoc staff.
Back to the Court session.
Having closed their cases in previous sitting, the judge asks the legal teams to address the court at next sitting.
Before the resume hearing, IG Wala legal team wrote a letter dated 17th December 2018 and titled” REQUEST FOR OUT OF COURT SETTLEMENT IN RESPECT OF CHARGE NO FCT/HC/CR/96/18 IN RESPECT OF FEDERAL GOVERNMENT OF NIGERIA VS IBRAHIM GARBA WALA AND SUIT NO. FCT/HC/CC/1301/ 17 BETWEEN ABDULAHI MYUKHTAR VS IBRAHIM GARBA WALA. The letter was addressed to Yusuf Dankofa and Co, suit 03 Choice Plaza, Alkali Road, Kaduna.
Armed with above letter, Barr Abdul Muhammed, the newly recruited Lawyer representing IG Wala told the Court that his clients has made move to settle the case out of court and in respect of this, a letter dated 17th of December has been send to the Nominal complainant lawyer.
He further averred that the Court should allow the process of out of court settlements to run through before further legal action on the matter.
However, the lead prosecutor told the Court that he is holding briefs for the Attorney General of the federation and by extension the State. That as far as he is concern, only the attorney general of the federation can gives him instruction to commence the process of withdrawal or otherwise.
The Judge aligned himself with his position and said he will communicate the date for the judgment to parties owing to his national assignment as members of election petition tribunal.
The first date given by the Judge to deliver the judgment was on 29th of March 2019 and IG Wala took to face book again to refresh the allegations he made against NAHCON Chairman.
This was said to have infuriated the Norminal complainer who again draw the attention of those who intervene on behalf of IG Wala
The date was later shifted to Thursday 12th April as the Judge was said to be leaving window opportunity for out of court settlements.
There are fundamental questions that need to be answered: First, did IG Wala published or made the above allegations on his facebook page? Yes, he did.
Does Ibrahim Garba Wala believes in those allegations as at the time or after he made those posts?
Does IG Wala or his defense team ever admitted that he published those allegations throughout the Court proceeding?
No, they didn’t.
So, is this about anti corruption activism or there more to this than meet the eyes of the public or were there any remote indications that IG Wala was actually being used by an interested party?
Watch out for the part II