June 10, 2009

N5.2bn fraud: Absence of accused stalls Elumelu, Ugbane, others’ trial

By Ise-Oluwa Ige
The Econom-ic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), yesterday docked the Chairman, Senate Committee on Power, Senator Nicholas Ugbane, his counterpart in the House of Representatives, Ndudi Elumelu and Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Power, Dr. Abdulahi Aliyu, before an Abuja Federal High Court over alleged perpetration of monumental fraud.

But the trio could not enter their pleas yesterday following absence in court of seven others who allegedly conspired with them to commit the alleged fraud.

The other accused persons are the Managing Director of the Rural Electrification Agency, Samuel Gekpe; Simon Nanle, Lawrence Orekoya, Abdulsamad Jahun, Kayode Oyedeji, Igwe Paulinus and Jibo Mohammed.

The septet are presently languishing in Kuje Prisons having failed to meet the bail conditions imposed on them by an Abuja High Court judge, Justice Adebukola Banjoko, in a sister case.

According to EFCC, the absent accused persons could not be blamed because they were yet to be served the criminal information in the matter as required by the statute.

Chief Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), representing Elumelu in the case, said there was no way the matter would not be adjourned in view of the fact that the accused persons were facing a joint trial.

He said the normal thing was for all the accused persons to be present in court so that their pleas could be taken at the same time.

He, however,  urged the commission to take deliberate and conscientious steps towards serving all relevant persons with the charge, so as to facilitate the commencement of definite trial in the case.

The 10 accused persons are standing trial before the Abuja High Court over alleged conspiracy, criminal breach of trust and perpetration of alleged fraud involving N5.2 billion rural electrification funds.

The offences against them were neatly arranged into 157 counts although the defence faulted the mode of preparation of the charge.

They had all pleaded not guilty to the charge.

Left for EFCC, all the accused persons should stand their trial from Kuje prisons where they are presently residing.

But while they were still battling to meet their bail conditions with a view to regaining their freedom, the commission had preferred a fresh 158 count charge against Ugbane, Elumelu, Aliyu, seven officials of the Rural Electrification Agency for their alleged breach of the Procurement Act in awarding contracts worth over N5 Billion to 21 companies, which they charged along with them.

According to EFCC, the ten accused persons without following due process awarded the contracts to the said companies.

The fresh charge came on heels of bail granted the ten accused persons. The trial Judge, Adebukola Bamjoko had granted them the bail on June 1, 2009.

But the stringent conditions attached to the bail had made it almost impossible for them to regain their freedom.

However, upon Elumelu and Aliyu meeting the said condition last Thursday, the gate of Kuje prisons was opened for them to go home. But as they stepped outside the gate, hoping to walk into the waiting arms of their family members, EFCC operatives swooped on them and bundled them away.

Spokesman to the commission, Femi Babafemi told newsmen that their re-arrest was in respect of a fresh 158 count charge filed against them at the Federal High Court, Abuja Division and added that they would be arraigned yesterday, but the arraignment was stalled.