A former Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS), Mr. David Paradang, was yesterday called in as the first prosecution witness (PW1) in the ongoing trial of the former Minister of Interior, Abba Moro.
Moro is being tried for the 2014 tragic immigration recruitment exercise in which more than a dozen job seekers died.
Moro was arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) alongside the former Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Anastasia Nwobia, F.O. Alayebami and Drexel Tech Nigeria Limited while Mahmood Ahmadu was said to be at large.
They are accused of defrauding 676,675 applicants of the sum of N676, 675,000, being the aggregate of N1,000 paid by each applicant to Drexel ahead of the recruitment.
They pleaded not guilty to the charges.
In a ruling on the bail application, former trial judge, Justice Chikere, who ruled that the alleged offences the defendants are charged with are bailable, granted Moro bail on self-recognition, while the second and third defendants were granted bail in the sum of N100million each with tow sureties in like sum.
However, at the next adjourned date for trial to commence, Justice Chikere announced her withdrawal from the case citing personal reason.
The case file was therefore returned to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice Ibrahim Auta for reassignment to another court.
At the resumed hearing of the case before Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, the former Comptroller General who served from June 2013 to August 2015, the time when over 20 job applicants died during a botched recruitment exercise, told the court he was shocked when he saw reports in the media about a recruitment exercise by the NIS.
“I was surprised about the recruitment exercise because I was not aware of it,” he said.
Parading narrated how he confronted Moro when he learnt of the development.
“Then I asked him; it would have been fair enough for you to inform the head of the service that you were recruiting. And that at least in the service, we had a delegated authority to recruit from a certain cadre”.
He said when he asked if that authority had been withdrawn from the exercise, the first defendant told him not to worry.
The witness said: “I then called two board members to ask whether they were aware of any recruitment advert for the NIS and they said they were not aware.”
But in an attempt to give the names of the people he spoke to, the counsel to the first defendant, Chris Uche, objecting, said by law and rules of evidence, a man who comes as witness has not come to give details of what he was told.
He said the witness cannot give details of others who are not in the witness box.
In his response, prosecution counsel, Aliyu Yusuf said the defence does not need to object but can raise the issue at the final address.
Responding, Justice Dimgba told the prosecuting counsel to be guided in his examination of the first witness.
The matter was then adjourned to June 10 for counsel to resolve grey areas that might likely affect the smooth prosecution of the case.
Moro and the other accused persons were arraigned on an 11-counts charge bordering on obtaining money by false pretences (aka 419), procurement fraud and money laundering.
The accused persons were alleged to have contravened the Public Procurement Act No. 65 of 2007 in the contract awards by not following the necessary procedure laid down by the government.
According to the EFCC, the award of the contract to Drexel Tech Nigeria Limited had no prior advertisement, no needs assessment and a procurement plan was not carried out before the award of the contract.
The anti-graft agency added that there was no budgetary provision for the exercise in the 2014 federal budget; hence, the applicants were made to bear the responsibility of funding the project without the approval of the board, contrary to Section 22(5) of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Commission Act, 2000.
The conduct of the recruitment test in March, 2014, led to the death of no fewer than 20 applicants while many others were injured in stampedes in Abuja, Port Harcourt and Minna.