By Soni Daniel, Regional Editor, North & Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — Six civil servants, accused of complicity in the illegal diversion of N32.8 billion from the Nigeria Police Pension funds, yesterday, failed to persuade an Abuja High Court sitting at Gudu to dismiss the 16-count charge of criminal conspiracy preferred against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
This was even as indications emerged, yesterday that the trial of former Bayelsa State Governor, Chief Timipre Sylva, may now begin in earnest following the arrest of his former Chief of Staff, Mr. Sam Ogbuku, who is suspected to be armed with a gamut of information relating to the assets of his principal.
EFCC sources told Vanguard that Ogbuku was picked up yesterday at his residence in Lekki Phase 1, Lagos by operatives of the Commission.
However, the six accused persons, including a Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mr. Atiku Abubakar Kigo; Esai Dangabar, Ahmed Inuwa Wada, John Yakubu Yusufu, Mrs Veronica Ulonma Onyegbula and Sani Habila Zira, had in separate preliminary objections they filed before the trial court, adduced reasons the charges against them should be quashed.
They contended that the anti-graft agency, failed to either establish strong prima-facie evidence capable of warranting their prosecution or show the nexus between them and the alleged scam.
EFCC had alleged that the accused persons, conspired and sequentially withdrew monies from Police Pension funds in an account domiciled at First Bank of Nigeria and shared it amongst themselves, adding that the 3rd accused persons, Inuwa Wada, collected N18million from Unity Bank Plc, as his reward for retaining the Police Pension Account with the bank.
The commission maintained that the fraud was perpetrated between January 2009 and June 2011.
According to the EFCC, their offence which bothers on conspiracy, fraud and criminal breach of trust, is punishable under sections 97, 315, 115(ii), 119 and 309, of the Penal Code Act Cap. 532, Laws of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Nigeria 2007.
Dismissing the objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to try them over the alleged offence as frivolous and grossly lacking in merit, trial Justice Mohammed Abubakar Talba, held that the accused persons, were unable to substantiate their argument with corroborating evidence.
Specifically, the trial court noted that the 2nd, 4th, 5th and 6th applicants, failed to supply relevant material before the court to warrant the quashing of the case against them, adding that going by totality of the proof of evidence before the court, they each have a case to answer regarding the missing pension funds.
Consequently, the court held that the EFCC had successfully established a prima-facie criminal case against them, even as it adjourned till January 28, 2013, to hear a fresh application that was filed by two of the accused persons in a bid to thwart their prosecution.
The judge, however, adjourned till January 28, 2013, to hear the argument in respect of the applications filed by the first and third accused persons, Esai Dangabar and Ahmed Inuwa Wada respectively to quash the charges against them.
EFCC had earlier secured an interim order that granted it possession of choice properties belonging to the accused persons.
The order was granted by Chief Judge of the Federal Capital Territory, Justice Lawal H. Gumi, who on July 25, 2012 ordered the freezing of the bank accounts of all the accused persons pending the hearing and final determination of the corruption case against them.
Fifteen of the properties, which were ordered forfeited on interim basis, belong to Dangabar, 11 to Mrs. Onyegbula, six to Wada, five to Kigo and four each to Yusuf and Zira.
Some of the charge against them read: “That you Esai Dangabar, John Yakubu Yusufu, Mrs. Veronica Ulonma Onyegbula and Sani Habila Zira, between January and December 2009 at Abuja in the Abuja Division of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, being public officers in the service of the government of the Federation and in such capacity entrusted with certain property, to wit: the sum of N8,920,371,822.24 (Eight Billion, Nine Hundred and Twenty Million, Three Hundred and Seventy One Thousand, Eight Hundred and Twenty Two Naira and Twenty Four Kobo)which sum formed part of Nigeria Police Pension funds in the account domiciled at the First Bank of Nigeria Plc, committed criminal breach of trust in respect of the said property, and you thereby committed an offence punishable under section 315 of the Penal Code Act, Cap. 532, Laws of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, Nigeria 2007.
“That you Atiku Abubakar Kigo, John Yakubu Yusufu, Mrs. Veronica Uloma Onyegbula and Sani Habila Zira, between January 2010 and February 2011 at Abuja in the Abuja Division of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, being public officers in the service of the Government of the Federal Government and in such capacity entrusted with certain property, to wit: the sum of N4, 739,894.896.06 ( Four Billion, Seven Hundred and Thirty Nine Million, Eight Hundred and Ninety Four Thousand, Eight Hundred and Ninety Six Naira and Six Kobo) which sum formed part of the Nigerian Police Pension funds in the account domiciled at the First Bank of Nigeria Plc, committed criminal breach of trust in respect of the said property, and you thereby committed an offence punishable under section 315 of the Penal Code Act. Cap. 532, Laws of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja , Nigeria 2007.”