The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has re-arraigned a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Babachir Lawal and three others before Justice Jude Okeke of a Federal Capital Territory, FCT High Court, Maitama.
Lawal along with his younger brother, Hamidu David Lawal, one Suleiman Abubakar, Apeh John Monday and two companies, Rholavision Engineering Ltd and Josmon Technologies Ltd, were re-arraigned on an amended 10-count charge bordering on fraud, diversion of funds and criminal conspiracy to the tune of over N500 million.
They were earlier arraigned before Justice Okeke on February 13, 2019 and the prosecution was meant to open its case today, March 18, 2019.
At the resumed hearing, counsel for the EFCC, Offem Uket told the court that the charges against them had been amended, and that they had to take a fresh plea.
However, citing Section 218 (2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, ACJA 2015, Akin Olujimi, SAN, counsel for Lawal, argued that “before the charge is taken, the prosecution ought to have filed the amended charge to ensure that it was properly endorsed”.
Other defence counsels aligned themselves with the submission of Olujimi.
Justice Okeke, while ordering the prosecution to comply with the section cited by Olujimi, however, ruled that in the interim, the amended charges be read to the defendants.
One of the counts reads: “That you, Engineer Babachir David Lawal, while being the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and a director of Rholavision Engineering Ltd on or about the 22nd August 2016 at Abuja in the Abuja Judicial Division of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory did knowingly hold indirectly private interest in the contract awarded to Josmon Technological Ltd but executed by Rholavision Engineering Ltd for the removal of invasive plant species and simplified irrigation to the tune of N258,132,735.99 (Two Hundred and Fifty Eight Million, One hundred and Thirty Two Thousand, Seven Hundred and Thirty Five Naira only) by the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) though the Presidential Initiative for North East (PINE) and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 12 of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000.”
They pleaded “not guilty” to the amended charges.
The defence team, thereafter, prayed the court to allow the defendants to continue with the bail earlier granted them by the court.
The request of the defence was granted by Justice Okeke, who adjourned to April 11, 2019 for “commencement of trial”, noting that, “the court is minded to grant an adjournment due to the amendment of the charges.”
It will be recalled that the Court had earlier granted the defendants bail in the sum of N50 million (Fifty Million Naira), with one surety in like sum, who must be resident within the jurisdiction of the court, and must be owner of a landed property within the jurisdiction of the court, with evidence of three years tax payment. The international passports of the defendants were also ordered to be deposited with the court.
Meanwhile, Justice Rilwan Aikawa of the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos has adjourned the N1.4 billion fraud trial of the President of the Nigerian Bar Association NBA, Paul Usoro, SAN, to April 17, 2019.
Usoro was charged along with Nsikan Nkan, Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Finance; Mfon Udomah, Accountant-General of Akwa Ibom State; Uwemedimo Nwoko, Attorney-General of Akwa Ibom State and Margaret Ukpe (who are all at large) on a 10-count charge bordering on money laundering.
At today’s sitting, March 18, 2019, the first defendant, Usoro, in an application, sought an order of the court directing the prosecution to serve on him a “summarized witness statement of evidence of those listed to give evidence in the matter.”
Usoro’s co-defendants, through their counsel, Mike Ozekhome, SAN, want the court to set aside the warrant of arrest issued against them.
In another application brought by Dr. Charles Mekwunye, counsel to the governor of Akwa Ibom State, the applicant challenged the jurisdiction of the court to proceed with the hearing of the charges.
Consequently, Justice Aikawa adjourned for hearing of the pending applications.
It will be recalled that Usoro was first arraigned before Justice M.S. Hassan, who later opted out of the matter.
The defendant had alleged that Justice Hassan would be biased, having been a former employee of the EFCC.
Usoro was, thereafter, re-arraigned before Justice Aikawa on March 1, 2019.