By EMMAN OVUAKPORIE & IKECHUKWU NNOCHIRI
ABUJA—THE ongoing probe and trial of former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Mr. Dimeji Bankole, and his Deputy, Alhaji Usman Bayero Nafada, for alleged fraud during their tenure took a dramatic turn, yesterday, following alleged decision of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, to use top officers of the National Assembly, NASS, as prosecution witnesses.
Vanguard gathered that the Clerk of the House had written a memo to the House leadership urging them to avoid taking such a ridiculous loan but that his advice was jettisoned.
The political leadership and top management staff of the National Assembly reportedly met behind closed doors yesterday to review the unfolding development.
National Assembly bureaucracy
Clerk of the National Assembly, Alhaji Abubakar Salisu Maikasuwa, and the House of Representatives Clerk, Mr. M.A. Sani Omolori, were among the top officials of the National Assembly bureaucracy who had been questioned by the Commission so far.
Vanguard also learnt that during the interrogations, the two officers were asked to prepare to serve as prosecution witnesses in the trials of the former Speaker Bankole and his deputy, Nafada.
However, serving and former members of the House have expressed reservations about the development which they saw as a dangerous twist in the unfolding drama.
A source told Vanguard: “Judging from recent happenings, what is obvious is that the National Assembly will not be the same in terms of image and reputation at the end of all these. Remember the series of corruption related cases that had emerged since 1999 in the National Assembly and the havoc they had caused to the reputation and image of the National Assembly.
“On the current issue, the anti-graft agency summoned some top management staff of the National Assembly including the Clerk to the National Assembly, CNA, Alhaji Salisu Abubakar Maikasuwa and the Clerk to the House of Representatives, Mr. M.A. Sani Omolori.
“They were asked some specific questions about the allegations. The matter arising from that is that the EFCC wants to use the Clerks as prosecution witnesses in the ongoing trial of former Presiding Officers of the House of Representatives.
“If any of them agrees to the idea of serving as prosecution witness, then I can tell you the worst would happen to the institution of the National Assembly. And that includes the National Assembly Bureaucracy, the Senate and the House of Representatives put together. I expect that the current leadership of the National Assembly, particularly the highly respected Senate president and Chairman of the National Assembly, Senator David Mark, should not allow this to happen.
Sourcing of prosecution witnesses
“EFCC should be advised to source its prosecution witnesses from outside the National Assembly. I am aware that a meeting of National Assembly Leadership and Heads of National Assembly Bureaucracy has been held. They need to hold more of such crucial meetings and come out strongly against any thing that is capable of shattering whatever remains of the image of the National Assembly.”
EFCC spokesman, Femi Babafemi, confirmed yesterday that the submissions of both Clerks sufficiently indicted former Speaker Dimeji Bankole and his deputy, Usman Bayero Nafada.
Babafemi said the commission now had more than enough documented evidence to carry the prosecution of both Bankole and Nafada to fruition.”
On plans to use Omolori and Maikasuwa as prosecution witnesses, Babafemi said “the option is not impossible.”
Let us go home, Bankole, Nafada beg court
Meanwhile, Dimeji Bankole and Usman Bayero Nafada, yesterday, asked trial Justice Suleiman Belgore of an Abuja High Court sitting at Apo, to release them on bail, pending determination of the criminal charge entered against them by EFCC.
The two former law makers who were, Monday, arraigned before the High Court by the anti-graft agency over their alleged complicity in a N40 billion loan scam, yesterday, tendered their formal application before the High Court.
They are answering to a 17-count criminal charge bothering on conspiracy and illegal diversion of public funds.
EFCC specifically alleged that they breached public trust by agreeing to approve the allowances and ‘running costs’ of members of the sixth session of House of Representatives in violation of the approved remuneration package for political, public and judicial office holders by the Revenue Mobilization Allocation and Fiscal Commission, as well as the extant Revised Financial Regulations of the Federal Government of Nigeria, 2009, and thereby committed an offence contrary to section 97(1) of the Penal Code Act, Cap 532, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (Abuja) 1990 and punishable under section 315 of the same Penal Code Act.
Separate bail applications
Their lead counsel, Chief Adegboyega Awomolo, SAN, filed two separate bail applications on their behalf.
The two former lawmakers in their applications, contended that all the charges entered against them by the anti-graft agency, consisted of bailable offences, stressing that the court should consider the provisions of section 35 and 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, and allow them to go to their respective homes.
Arguing that all the extant laws operating in Nigeria presumed an accused person as innocent, they averred that they should be regarded as such, pending when the prosecution would establish their guilt.
In his application, Nafada averred that he was in a precarious health condition sequel to his involvement in a fatal auto-accident on Saturday along Bauchi/Kano road, saying the incident happened at Gwarzo town.
Stressing that the accident claimed the lives of seven people, Nafada said he would need time and opportunity to liaise with his lawyer with a view to preparing a formidable defence to the charge against him.
He said he had never been tried for a criminal offence and that he would not jump bail if admitted to bail.
Bankole who was earlier granted bail by a Federal High Court in Abuja, said he was ready to face trial and prove his innocence before the court.
It will be recalled that trial Justice Belgore, remanded the accused persons in the custody of EFCC following an objection that was raised against their oral bail application, by the prosecuting counsel, Mr. Festus Keyamo.
The Judge who declined to remand them in Kuje Prison as he was prayed by the commission, equally fixed today to hear arguments on their formal bail applications.
EFCC alleged that the accused persons being entrusted with House of Representatives’ Account No. 00390070000018 with the United Bank of Africa, Plc and the Overhead Account of the House of Representatives with First Bank of Nigeria, Plc, properties of the Federal Government of Nigeria, dishonestly used the accounts to obtain a loan totaling to about N40 billion.