…as court adjourns case till March 17
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri. ABUJA
Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr Femi Falana, on Thursday, expressed his readiness to testify in the ongoing trial of the former Chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team, PRTT, Mr Abdulrasheed Maina.
Maina is answering to a 12-count money laundering charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, preferred against him and his firm, Common Input Property and Investment Limited, before the Federal High Court in Abuja.
The former pension reform boss who opened his defence to the charge on March 1, had applied for the court to compel 10 persons, among whom included Falana, SAN, to appear as witnesses in the matter.
Trial Justice Okon Abang had on the strength of Maina’s application, also summoned the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr Abubakar Malami, SAN, the erstwhile Acting Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Mr Ibrahim Magu and the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Mr Godwin Emiefele, to appear as witnesses.
Maina had insisted that evidence of the subpoenaed witnesses would be crucial to his defence of the charge pending against him.
Others he also persuaded the court to compel to appear and testify in the matter, included M. Mustapha, Hassan Salihu, Mohammed Wakil, G.T Idris, Kenneth Amabem, Ibrahim Kaigama and the Director of Compliance at the CBN.
Meanwhile, out of all the subpoenaed witnesses, only Falana, SAN, appeared before the court on Thursday.
The senior lawyer entered the courtroom around 11:30 am while Maina’s second defence witness, DW-2, Mr Emoakemeh Charles, was giving his Evidence-In-Chief.
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Midway into the testimony of the witness, trial Justice Abang told the parties that he was minded to adjourn the case to another day to enable him to attend to other matters.
At that juncture, a lawyer in Falana’s chambers, Mr Marshal Abubakar, drew the attention of the counsel that represented Maina on Thursday, Mr Adaji Abel, to the presence of his principal (Falana) in court.
When the court was notified, Falana, though not robed in his wig and gown, took the floor and addressed the court.
He said: “My lord, I learnt that I have been summoned. Even though I have not been served anything, but I am here today out of respect for the court.
“I will go and collect the summons from the bailiff myself”.
While commending him for showing such respect to the court, Justice Abang explained that all the summons were issued at the behest of Defendant.
“Unlike what was reported in some sections of the media, it was not this court that issued the summons on its own. It was the Defendant that applied for them, and this court, going by decision of the Court of Appeal, had no choice but to sign them”.
Responding, Falana said he had no problem testifying in the matter.
“I quite understood my lord. It will be my pleasure to testify in this matter”, he added.
Trial Justice Abang subsequently adjourned the matter till March 17 and 18 for the continuation of hearing of evidence of the PW-2 and for evidence of witnesses on the subpoena.
Among those that accompanied Falana to the court on Thursday included pro-democracy activist and convener of the #RevolutionNowProtest, Mr Omoyele Sowore.
Speaking to newsmen at the end of the proceedings, Falana, SAN, said he would gladly testify before the court.
“I have just collected the subpoena. I believe that this is an opportunity for me to put an end to the needless controversy surrounding the property I never bought”, he added.
It will be recalled that Maina’s first defence witness, Mr.
Mr. Ngozika Ihuoma, had in his testimony before the court, alleged that the EFCC under Magu, misappropriated a total of 222 properties worth N1.63 trillion, which he said was recovered by the PRTT that was headed by Maina.
The DW-1 further alleged that the former EFCC boss, Magu, sold most of the recovered properties to his friends and associates.
He told the court that one of the choice properties the PRTT recovered and handed over to EFCC was grossly undervalued from N6billion in 2011 and sold to a renowned lawyer in 2015 for N1bn.
The witness further alleged that the AGF, Malami, SAN, and the National Security Adviser, NSA, held a meeting with Maina in Dubai, United Arab Emirate, UAE, in January 2016, which he said led to the recovery of about N1.3trillion that was stashed in various bank accounts.
Meanwhile, at the resumed proceedings on Thursday, the DW-2, Charles, who identified himself as a retired Superintendent of Prisons, told the court that Maina’s fight against ghost pensioners in the country, helped the Federal Government to recover over N10bn.
He told the court that before Maina was appointed the Chairman of the defunct PRTT, he handled the verification of pensions for Customs, Immigration and Prison Officers, CIPO.
The witness said it was because of the way Maina discharged his functions that he was appointed to lead the PRTT, which he said had members drawn from the EFCC, ICPC and the DSS.
Charles told the court that he was among pensioners that Maina took from CIPO to the PRTT to assist him in identifying ghost pensioners across the 36 states of the federation, through biometric exercise.
“We are so sympathetic about how the 1st Defendant is being treated now. Things are not easy for federal pensioners. For the past 10 years now, they have not reviewed our pension.
“If Maina had remained in service now, Pensioners would have gotten all their allowances. That is what we are missing him for.
“The PRTT worked under the then Head of Service, Mr Stephen Oronsaye. Each time we went for any assignment, before any approval of money is made for us, we must write to the HoS, even for Duty Tour Allowance, DTA.
“Maina did not have any control over the disbursement of funds. He must first apply to the HoS.
“The biometrics was conducted at the HoS. There is even a video recording about the biometric exercise”, the DW-2 added.
EFCC had in the charge marked FHC/ABJ/CR/256/2019, alleged that Maina used a bank account that was operated by his firm and laundered funds to the tune of about an N2billion, part of which he used to acquire landed properties in Abuja.
It told the court that the 1st Defendant (Maina) used fictitious names to open and operate various bank accounts, as well as recruited his relatives that were bankers to operate fake bank accounts through which illicit funds were channelled.
The Prosecution maintained that the Defendants committed criminal offences punishable under sections 11(2) (a), 15(3), and 16(2) (c) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act, and also acted in breach of the Advance Fee Fraud Act.
The Defendants were arraigned on October 25, 2019, and they pleaded not guilty to the charge.