Alex Enumah in Abuja
A Federal High Court in Abuja wednesday expressed its reservation over the shoddy manner in which the prosecution is handling the trial of a former Minister of Interior, Abba Moro and three others over their alleged complicity in the 2014 recruitment exercise that claimed the lives of several persons.
Trial judge, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, who expressed displeasure at the attitude of the prosecution, said the lack of seriousness was unbecoming of a prosecution counsel.
Moro, alongside then Permanent Secretary of the Ministry, Anastasia Daniel-Nwobia; a Deputy Director in the ministry, Felix Alayebami; and the contracting firm given the recruitment job, Drexel Tech Nigeria Ltd, are standing trial for their roles in the botched March 15, 2014 immigration recruitment exercise that killed no fewer than 20 job seekers across the country.
At the resumed trial yesterday, prosecuting counsel, Elizabeth Alabi, who held brief for Yusuf Aliyu, told the court that the fourth prosecution witness was unavoidably absent in court.
â€œHe is a subpoenaed witness based in Lagos, because of the public holidays we could not have audience with him. We urged your lordship for a new date,â€ she told the court.
Responding, the judge said the holidays would not have been an excused if the counsel had done a proper homework.
â€œYou ought to arrange your case accordingly, despite the holiday. If I strike out the case for lack of diligent prosecution you will raise all kind of hell. The press would feast on it, probably accuse me of collecting money. And we have no way to reply. If next time the prosecution is not ready, I will know what to do, â€œ Dimgba said.
Moroâ€™s counsel, Chief A.T. Kehinde (SAN), opposing the request for adjournment stated that the action does not show seriousness on the part of prosecution counsel.
He urged the court to take note that the case was adjourned 42 days ago, which was enough time for the prosecution to prepare its witness.
Chief Chris Uche (SAN), counsel to the second defendant observed that if the defendants were the one asking for adjournment it would be a different thing in the media.
â€œWhen it was adjourned in May, they said they have witnesses. Assuming they were unable to bring one, what of the other witnesses. I want the court to take judicial notice that they are the one delaying that case.
T. C. Ikpe and Sunday Ameh, counsel to the third and fourth defendants aligned themselves with the submissions of Kehinde and Uche, lamenting that at the last adjourned date, it was the prosecution that moved the same application due to the absence of the witness.
The court however, adjourned till October 4 for continuation of trial. This according to the judge is to give one more chance to the prosecution witnesses it otherwise the prosecution closes its case.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had accused the defendants of defrauding 676,675 Nigerian applicants of N676,675,000.
Each of the 676,675 applicants were charged N1,000 each for the participating in the recruitment exercise.
The anti-graft agency is also accusing the defendants of flouting 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.
The EFCC said Drexel EFCC had no prior advertisement and no NEEDS assessment and procurement plan was carried out before the contract was awarded.
According to the anti-graft agency, the contract was awarded through selective tendering procedure by invitation of 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.
Drexel is also alleged to be unregistered and had no legal capacity to enter into the said contract.
There is also said to be no budgetary provision for the exercise in the 2014 federal capital budget hence the applicants were made to bear the responsibility of funding the project without approval of the Board contrary to section 22(5) of the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act 2000, the charge said.