By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – Justice Anwuli Chikere of the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, on Wednesday, disqualified herself from presiding over the trial of the erstwhile Minister of Interior, Mr. Abba Moro.
The former Minister is facing trial before the court over his alleged complicity in a N676million job recruitment scam that led to the death of no fewer than 20 persons across the country in 2014.
Justice Chikere who had on May 3, okayed full-blown hearing on the matter, on Wednesday, made a U-turn, saying she would no longer hear the case “on personal grounds”.
“I am sending the case-file back to the Chief Judge for re-assignment on personal reasons.
“When it gets re-assigned, the parties can continue”, the Judge stated after the case was called-up for hearing.
Nevertheless, the prosecuting counsel, Mr. Aliyu Yusuf, notified the court that the charge pending against the ex-Minister has been amended.
Moro is answering to an 11-count criminal charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, filed against him and two others.
Those facing trial with him are the former Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Interior when the alleged fraud was committed, Mrs. Anastasia Daniel-Nwobia and a Deputy Director in the ministry, Mr. F. O Alayebami.
They were charge alongside the firm that was contracted to conduct the botched March 15, 2014, National Immigration Service, NIS, recruitment exercise, Drexel Tech Nigeria Ltd.
The prosecution earlier told the court that one of the alleged culprits, Mr. Mahmood Ahmadu, who it said was a Director at the firm, was at large.
Whereas Justice Chikere granted the former Minister bail on self recognition, she ordered his co-defendants to deposit N100million each.
The court however seized Moro’s international passport, even as it directed the other accused persons to produce one surety each in the like sum, who must not be below the level of a Director in either Federal of State employment.
It said the sureties must not only tender a letter confirming their employment, but equally depose to an affidavit of means before the court.
They are to also surrender the title deed of their property in any part of the country, as well as, submit two of their recent passport photographs.
”The1st defendant is a senior citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and a former public officer who has served the country in the capacity of a Minister”, Justice Chikere noted, saying she was convinced he would not jump bail.
“I believe that as a responsible citizen of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, he will present himself to stand trial. Accordingly, bail is granted to the 1st respondent on self-recognizance”, the Judge held.
Specifically, EFCC alleged that the defendants defrauded 676,675 Nigerian applicants of N676, 675,000 (Six Hundred and Seventy Six Million, Six Hundred and Seventy Five Thousand Naira).
Each of the 676,675 applicants were charged N1, 000 each for participating in the ill-fated Immigration recruitment exercise.
The defendants were alleged to have flouted the Public Procurement Act, No. 65 of 2007 in the award of the contract for the organisation of the recruitment test to Drexel Tech Nigeria Ltd.
EFCC said its investigations revealed that the firm, which it said was not validly registered to operate in Nigeria, never bided for the contract.
It said the contract was awarded through selective tendering procedure by invitation of 4 (Four) firms without seeking the approval of the Bureau for Public Procurement, contrary to sections 40, 42 and 43 of the Public Procurement Act, No. 65 of 2007 and punishable under section 58 of the same Act.