By Ise-Oluwa Ige
ABUJAâ€”FORMER Minister in Charge of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai and two key officials of the Abuja Geographic Information System, AGIS, were arraigned, yesterday, before a Federal High Court in Maitama over alleged abuse of office and corruption.
The affected officials of the AGIS were its Director-General and General Manager, Altine Jubrin and Ismaila Iro, respectively.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, which is prosecuting the trio on behalf of the Federal Government said the accused persons conspired to confer corrupt or unfair advantage upon themselves and on the relations and associates of El-Rufai.
They, however, took turns to deny the allegations.
El-Rufai who wore a blue buba and sokoto with a wine coloured cap removed the cap while in the dock to enter a plea of not guilty to each of the eight counts in the charge.
His wives were in court to witness his arraignment. One of his wives was on his legal team while the other watched the scene from the crowd.
Specifically, El-Rufai was accused of willfully distorting the Abuja Master Plan by irregularly revoking the ownership title of two parcels of land belonging to Power Holding Company of Nigeria Plc, PHCN, and the Nigeria Postal Services, NIPOST.
He was also alleged to have reallocated part of the land to the two officials of AGIS and another to his relations and associates.
The said parcels of land which provoked the criminal charge were located in the high brow areas of Asokoro and Maitama in the Federal Capital Territory.
Fingered as beneficiaries of the alleged abuse of office and corrupt acts in the eight-count charge were Altine Jubrin, Ismail Iro, both officials of AGIS and El-Rufaiâ€™s two wives -Â Hadiza and Asia.
Other beneficiaries named in the charge were El-Rufaiâ€™s relations and associates including M. Oil Limited, Philip Daudu, Saidu Samaila, Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, Jamaila Alhassan and Bello Sani.
The alleged offences which EFCC said the three accused persons had committed were within the primary jurisdiction of ICPC to probe and prosecute.
The three accused persons who were represented by powerful legal teams led by notable members of the inner bar, did not object to the reading of the charge, yesterday, for want of competence.
Conditions for bail
Rufaiâ€™s legal team was headed by former Attorney-General of the Federation, Chief Akinlolu Olujinmi, SAN, Jibrinâ€™s was headed by Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, while Iroâ€™s was headed by another ex-Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr Kanu Agabi, SAN.
All the legal teams of the three accused persons did after the reading of the charge was to apply orally for the bail of their clients on self recognition.
Although the Federal Government said it was not aversed to their request for bail it, however, begged the court to attach reasonable conditions that would compel them to come to court for their trial.
The trial judge, Justice Adamu Bello, in a bench ruling, refused the request of the accused persons for bail on self recognition.
He said that though he was of the belief that none of them would jump bail, each of them must produce before the court, a N100million bail bond with one surety, in like sum.
He said the surety must be resident in Abuja and must possess landed property in the Federal Capital Territory worth the bail bond sum.
The judge also ordered that the accused persons must be remanded in EFCC custody until the bail conditions were perfected. The bail conditions, no doubt, came as a surprise to the accused persons and their relations. El-Rufaiâ€™s wife who sat close to Vanguard in the court room expressed surprise as the trial judge was reeling out the bail conditions.
They played Romeo and Juliet in the court room shortly after the court adjourned full hearing in their case till 22 June, this year.
One of the charges against the accused persons reads:
“That you Mallam Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai, M, Altine Jubrin, F, and Ismaila Iro, M, between 13 December, 2003 and 14 December, 2007 or thereabout at the Ministry of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja and in the performance of your official duties as public officers, being the Minister of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, the Director General, Abuja Geographic Information System, AGIS, and the General Manager, Abuja Geographic Information System, AGIS, respectively did engage in criminal conspiracy to commit an offence to wit:
using your office and positions to gratify and or confer corrupt or unfair advantage upon the relations and associates of Mallam Nasir El RufaiÂ to wit: Hadiza Ahmed El Rufai, Aisha Ahmed Rufai, M Oil Limited, Philip Daudu, Saidu Samaila, Iyabo Obasanjo-Bello, Jamaila Alhassan and Bello Sani by the irregular revocation and reallocation to them of the parcel of land originally belonging to Power Holding Company of Nigeria Plc, thereby committing an offence contrary to section 26 (1) c and punishable under section 19 of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000.
El-Rufai drags FG to court over trial
Meanwhile, immediately after Justice Adamu Bello adjourned the criminal trial of the former minister till June 22, this year, Mallam Nasir el-Rufai was guarded by men of the EFCC to another courtroom presided over by Justice Gabriel Kolawole of the Federal high court edifice to challenge the mode with which EFCC approached Justice Bello in the pending land case before him.
In the suit with registration number: Rufai vs. EFCC & the Attorney-General of the Federation, FHC/ABJ/CS/669/08, the former minister challenged the competence of the EFCC to be involved in land matters.
He invited the trial high court judge, Justice Kolawole to declare that the civil courts are the appropriate venue for redress on land matters.
El Rufai also sought a declaration that his actions as FCT Minister were proper and valid under Nigerian law and that the EFCCâ€™s threat to declare him wanted was ultra vires and that an order should set aside the EFCCâ€™s invitation to question him on land matters.
The fresh civil case before Justice Kolawole challenged the entire basis for the criminal charge filed by the Federal Government against him and two others.
The prosecutor in the Federal Governmentâ€™s case, Adebayo Adelodun & Co. is also the defence counsel in the case instituted by El-Rufai, who is being represented in this matter by the same firm handling his defence in the government case, AU Mustapha & Co.