By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, sitting in Abuja, on Tuesday, found the erstwhile Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsday Orubebe, guilty of the allegation that he falsely declared his assets in 2007.
The tribunal, in a Judgement delivered by its Chairman, Justice Danladi Umar, said it was satisfied that Orubebe shielded his ownership of Plot 2057 Asokoro District, Abuja.
Umar, who maintained that there was merit in the one-count amended charge the federal government preferred against the former Minister, held that the said property should be forfeited to the government.
The tribunal noted that though Orubebe claimed that he had already sold the land before he submitted the assets declaration form, the title documents still had his name six years after.
Even though the tribunal confiscated the land from the defendant, it however declined to ban him from holding any public office.
Meanwhile, Orubebe’s lawyer, Mr. Selekowei Larry, SAN, has vowed to appeal against the judgment which he described as “travesty of Justice”.
Selekowei said the verdict was a clear example of “convict him at all cost” syndrome.
FG had in the course of the trial, called only one witness, an official of the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, that testified against Orubebe.
On his part, the defendant who testified for himself, also produced a witness before the tribunal.
In his Evidence-in-chief, Orubebe admitted that the plot was allocated to him by the government in 2007 as part of his ministerial entitlements.
He told the tribunal that he decided to sale the land after he defaulted in the payment of his Abuja house for two years.
He told the tribunal that whereas his monthly salary and every other allowances he collected in 2007 amounted to only N1. 3m, he said the salary was further reduced to N990, 000 in 2008.
“My lord as at September 26, 2007, I never had a property named plot 2057 Asokoro District, Abuja. So I could not have declared it upon my assumption of office as a Minister.
“On June 29, 2011 when I was temporarily dis-engaged from the Federal Executive Council when it was dissolved before I was re-appointed, I never also had Plot 2057 Asokoro District. So I could not have declared it as mine because it was no longer my property.
“But other pieces of land that was given to me by the government I served, I declared them.
“My lord the plot in question which was ordinary empty land in the bush that was given to me by the federal government that I served, bear the offer letter from the FCT Minister.
“I decided to give it out to my landlord, Barr. Ajibola to settle for my two years house rent. This is because my lord in this country, so many people do not know that the annual salary of a Minister, accommodation, transportation and inclusive of everything, per month in 2007, was N1.3m, by 2008, it came down to N990, 000.
“So my lord, the annual salary of a Minister from that time and even today cannot pay rent for him in befitting places like Maitama, Asokoro, Mabushi or Wuse 2.
“All Ministers in the FEC were given offer letters. Therefore when I got the offer letter for the land, I saw it as an opportunity to settle my house rent.
“My lord I never saw the land and the C of O. The same day it was given to me was the same day I parted with it for N10m for two years house rent of N5m each.
“My lord I was never invited to the Code of Conduct Bureau in any form, either by telephone or by a written letter. I did not know anything about these issues until the day I was served with a letter to appear before this tribunal.
“I served this country as a Minister for six years and four months and I do respect government officials.
“If only the Bureau had invited me I would have gone. Even if only to clarify things for them which is a simple thing to do.
“From the day this case started I have never failed any sitting. Even when a medical trip was given to me and the court later fixed date on that day I cancelled my trip and appeared because my conscience is clear.
“I love this country, but I have a pain in my heart. When oil production went down to 700, 000 barrels per day, this was the man, the only Minister that went to the creeks to meet the militants. I slept in the creeks with militants for two weeks, an effort that led to the amnesty programme and subsequent increase of oil production from 700, 000 barrels to 2.6m barrels.
“The same country that I served is now taking me through this rigours over an ordinary empty plot of land it also gave to me which I sold to pay my rent to have a roof over my head to be able to serve.
“This is my regret. Now the Niger Delta is boiling again, who will see what I am going through and agree to stick out his neck. My country has not treated me well, my lord my heart is heavy. I am a sad man”, Orubebe lamented from the witness box.
His witness, Mr. Akinwumi Ajibola who is a legal practitioner and a real estate agent, also corroborated the story, saying it was his firm that sold the land for the defendant.
Orubebe was alleged to have committed an offence contrary to section 15 of Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act, Cap. 15 laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2014, and punishable under section 23(2) of the same Act.