At Oyo-Ita’s Trial, COVID-19 to the Rescue

Winifred Oyo-Ita

Reviewing some of the events that led to the arraignment of a former Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, Kingsley Nwezeh writes on the arguments for her bail, which was hinged on Covid-19 and the intrigues that led to her eventual fall

Last Monday, a former Head of Service of the Federation (HoSF), Mrs. Winifred Oyo-Ita, was arraigned before a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja over a N3 billion fraud, corruption and money laundering allegations.

Arraigned alongside Oyo-Ita by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was her special assistant, Ubong Effiok; Frontline Ace Global Services Limited, Asanaya Projects Ltd; Garba Umar and his companies notably Slopes International Ltd and Gooddeal Investments Ltd.

Also arraigned was U & U Global Services Ltd, belonging to Mr Effiok, and Prince Mega Logistics Ltd. They were arraigned for alleged fraud in relation to Duty Tour Allowances (DTA), estacodes and conference fees in addition to receiving kickbacks on contracts.They were all arraigned before Justice Taiwo Taiwo of the Federal High Court in Abuja.
The former top civil servant was arrested in August 2019, by the EFCC and was released after four days in detention. Oyo-Ita was however fired in September after N600 million was allegedly found in her aide’s bank account and has since been replaced by Mrs. Folashade Yemi Esan.

The defendants were arraigned on an 18-count charge filed on February 28 by the anti-graft agency.
Count one: “That you Winifred Oyo-Ita (whilst serving as a Deputy Director in the Federal Ministry of Power) and Frontline Ace Global Services Limited (a company incorporated in Nigeria and of which Winifred Oyo-Ita is the sole signatory of its bank accounts at Zenith Bank) sometime in April, 2010 within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court collaborated in disguising the genuine ownership of an aggregate sum of N20,000,000.00 (Twenty Million Naira only) paid by the Federal Ministry of Power into the Zenith Bank account of Frontline Ace Global Services Limited No: 1011518656, which sum was derived directly from an illegal act, to wit: corruption and you thereby committed an offence punishable under section 14(1)(6) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004.

Another charge against Oyo-Ita reads: “That you Winifred Oyo-Ita aka Winifred Ekanett, whilst being the Head of Civil Service of the Federation) between 2nd August, 2016 and 28th February, 2018 within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, took possession of an aggregate Sum of N62,215,169 (Sixty Two Million, Two Hundred and Fifteen Thousand, One Hundred and Sixty Nine Naira) only paid into your Zenith Bank account No: 1001074067 knowing that the said funds formed part of the proceed of an unlawful activity to wit: fraud (purported estacodes, fee for journeys not embarked on) and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 15(2) (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended) and punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act”.

The defendants were later granted bail after pleading not guilty to the18-count charge.
In view of their plea, prosecuting counsel, MS. Abubakar, told the court that he was fully aware of the Coronavirus pandemic ravaging the world, and therefore urged the court to place stringent bail terms and conditions that would not undermine the bail system.

“My lord, I hereby confirm and appreciate the fact that there is epidemic worldwide, which requires social distancing among other measures. In the light of this, I have discussed with my colleagues at the operation department concerning the conducts and antecedents of the three defendants, all of who were on administrative bail granted them by the EFCC.
“The information I received from them indicated that the fourth and seventh defendants, to a large extent, have honoured and respected the terms of bail. But regarding the first defendant, our officers had serious problems trying to serve her charge and also bringing her to court for arraignment.”

He, nevertheless, urged the judge to impose stringent terms and conditions that would ensure the availability of the defendants, particularly the first defendant, Oyo-Ita, whose conducts and antecedents, he said is nothing to write home about.

But counsels to the defendants: Paul Erokoro, SAN; A.C Ananukwa; Ebuka Nwaeze and Okechukwu Ajunwa applied for less stringent bail in the light of the corona virus pandemic.

In his ruling, the judge granted Oyo-Ita bail in the sum of N100 million, two sureties in like sum. One of the surety, he said must be a civil servant not below level 17 in any federal ministry, agency and parastatal.
The sureties, he further said must be residents of Abuja and one of them must be owner of property worth N100million in the Metropolis of Abuja.

The sureties, the judge ruled, should depose to affidavit of means and attach it to the affidavit. Also, the judge ruled that the international passport of the first defendant should be deposited with the court registrar.
Her final arraignment followed months of intrigues that started with her hospitalisation at an undisclosed hospital in the Jabi Area of Abuja immediately the EFCC got on the matter.

Initially, Oyo-Ita reportedly tendered her resignation letter as soon as the scandal broke but the presidency later clarified that she was still on her desk. The speculation over her resignation followed her absence at the Federal Executive Council (FEC) Meeting owing to the fraud investigation. She later assumed duties after President Muhammadu Buhari reportedly insisted she returned to her desk.

Oyo-Ita’s travails emanated from the return of a former Chairman of the Pension Task Force, Abdulrasheed Maina, to the Ministry of Interior as a deputy director. Maina then had a N2 billion pending fraud charge against him by the EFCC.
The then Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazzau had said Maina’s reinstatement was made possible through a letter from the Head of Service. Following the development, President Buhari ordered the dismissal of Maina and probe of his reinstatement. Oyo-Ita had swiftly denied the involvement of her office in the reinstatement.

“The attention of the office of the head of the civil service of the federation has been drawn to several media reports that the head of the civil service of the federation has approved the re-instatement into the federal civil service of Alhaji Abdulrasheed Abdullahi Maina and his subsequent posting to the ministry of interior.

“The head of the civil service of the federation (HCSF) wishes to inform the public that the re-instatement and posting of Alhaji Abdulrasheed Abdullahi Maina never emanated from the office of the head of the civil service of the federation,” he said.

The statement had further stated: “Consequently, the purported re-instatement and posting by the Office of the Head of the Civil Service of the Federation is totally erroneous and misleading.”

But her position appeared not to have gone down well with some powerful forces that attempted to return Maina, whose posters had flooded Maiduguri and Abuja streets, indicating his intention to run for the governorship of Borno State.