By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Tuesday, arraigned the immediate past Governor of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu before the Federal High Court in Abuja on eight-count money laundering charge.
Aliyu was docked alongside the 2015 governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, in the state, Umar Nasko, over allegation that they conspired and diverted over N1billion from Ecological Fund the state received from the Federal Government in 2014.
The 2nd defendant, Nasko, served as Chief of Staff and Commissioner for Environment, Parks, Gardens and Forest Resources under Aliyu’s administration between 2007 and 2015.
The duo were said to have pocketed the Ecological Fund which they allegedly paid into the account of a private company, D-Sabrin International Limited through the Niger State Minister of Environment.
Meanwhile, the defendants pleaded not guilty to the charge, even as they prayed the court to allow them on bail pending the determination of the criminal case against them.
The defendants, through their lawyer, Mr. Mamman Usman, SAN, maintained that the charge against them contained bailable offences, stressing that they were earlier granted administrative bail by the anti-graft agency.
Even though it did not oppose the bail request, EFCC lawyer, Mr. Ben Ikani, urged the court to impose conditions that would secure the presence of the defendants for their trial.
In a bench ruling, trial Justice Nnamdi Dimgba granted the former governor and his co-defendants bail to the sum 200million with two sureties each.
Justice Dimgba held that the sureties could be public servants or professionals.
“When in public service, the surety must not be below the rank of a Director”, the court added.
It held that the two sureties must be owners of landed property within the Federal Capital Territory and not in the satellite towns.
Justice Dimgba ordered the defendants to surrender their international passports and not travel outside the country except with the express permission of the court.
He ruled that operatives of EFCC must confirm that all the bail conditions were fully perfected.
“The defendants are however to be remanded in Kuje Prison if the bail is not perfected within 48 hours”, the Judge ruled.
The case was subsequently adjourned till 6 and 7 July for hearing.
Meanwhile, the defendants have filed preliminary objection challenging their trial in Abuja.
The former governor and his co-defendant who are equally facing a separate charge before a high court at Minna, Niger State, are contending that the Federal High Court in Abuja lacks the territory jurisdiction to entertain the case.
They maintained that FG ought to have arraigned them in Niger State where the alleged offence was committed.
Some of the counts in the charge marked FHC/ABJ/CR/71/2017, read: “That you, Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu (whilst being the Executive Governor of Niger State) and Umar Muhammed Nasko (whilst being the Commissioner for Environment, Parks, Gardens and Forest Resources in Niger State) sometime in 2014 at Minna within the jurisdiction of this honourable court did conspire between yourselves to commit an offence to wit; Money Laundering of Ecological Funds released by the Federal Government to the Niger State Government and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended) and punishable under section 15(3) of the same Act.
“That you Dr. Muazu Babangida Aliyu (whilst being the Executive Governor of Niger State) and Umar Muhammed Nasko (whilst being the Commissioner for Environment, Parks, Gardens and Forest Resources in Niger State) on or about 25th December, 2014, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court did indirectly take control of the aggregate sum of N478,495, 600. 00 (Four Hundred and Seventy Eight Million, Four Hundred and Ninety Five Thousand, Six Hundred Naira Only), paid by the Niger State Ministry of Environment, Parks, Gardens and Forest Resources to MJ Eco Projects awarded to the Company in respect of of zone “B” of Niger State which money you reasonably ought to have known forms part of the proceeds of an unlawful act to wit: corruption and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 15(2) (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 (as amended) and punishable under section 15(3) of the same Act”.