* Court discharges them from criminal charges; orders them to respond to alleged abuse of office
By Alex Enumah
Relief temporarily came the way of former Minister of Interior, Senator Abba Moro, following his discharge in seven out of the 11-count criminal charge brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Specifically, the court discharged Moro in the counts bordering on fraud and money laundering and ordered him to open his defence in the counts relating to breach of procurement laws as a public servant.
Moro is standing trial on an 11-count criminal charge bordering on money laundering and procurement fraud to the tune of N675,675,000.
He is being tried alongside a former secretary in the ministry, Mrs Anastasia Daniel-Nwobia; a deputy director in the ministry, F. O. Alayebami; Mahmood Ahmadu and Drexel Tech Nigeria Limited, a firm involved in the ill-fated 2014 nationwide recruitment exercise of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) that resulted in the deaths of some applicants.
In prosecuting its case against the defendants, the EFCC called over 10 witnesses before closing its case late November 2019.
Instead of opening their defence, the defendants including, the former minister now a senator representing Benue South Senatorial District at the National Assembly, entered a no-case submission.
They submitted that the anti-graft agency failed to establish any element of crime preferred against them in the charge.
Delivering ruling in the no-case submission on Thursday, trial judge, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, however agreed partially with Moro and other defendants that the prosecution failed to prove its case against them.
While Justice Dimgba held that Moro, Mrs Daniel-Nwobia and Alayebami had case to answer in four of the counts, the judge discharged and acquitted Dretex Tech Nigeria Limited and its owner, Alhaji Ahmadu Mohammed from the entire charges.
Dretex was a private Information Communication Technology (ICT) company used by the Ministry of Interior under Moro to carry out the 2014 recruitment exercise that brought about the criminal trial.
According to the judge, the defendants have some explanations to make as it relates to counts 2, 4, 5 and 11 as it relates to breach of the Public Procurement Act, No. 65 of 2007 in the contract awards.
The award of the contract to Drexel Tech Nig Ltd, the EFCC claimed, had no prior advertisement, no needs assessment, adding that no procurement plan was carried out before the contract was awarded.
The EFCC further alleged that the contract was awarded through selective tendering procedure by invitation of four firms without seeking the approval of the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP), 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 Tech Global Nigeria Limited, the company that provided the online enlistment and recruitment services, was discharged and acquitted and will not be facing further trial.
Justice Dimgba held that contrary to the prosecution claim, Drexel Tech Global Nigeria Limited was a registered company with the legal capacity to enter into the said contract.
In addition, the court held that evidence placed before it showed that the contract for the recruitment exercise received the approval of relevant authorities including the e-registration exercise.
Justice Dimgba held that: “There is no ground for proceeding with count one which relates to conspiracy as the charge was based on inference and nothing more.
“None of the said applicants was invited by the prosecution to testify to the payment of the N1,000 to access the e-portal. Unfortunately, the prosecution could not call a single job-seeker who applied for the job to give evidence. This is in itself fatal to this count.
“The evidence adduced by prosecution witnesses contradicted the charge as the Ministry secured all the necessary approvals from relevant authorities for the recruitment exercise.
“The said recruitment process was not arbitrary but was approved by relevant authorities. It makes no common sense in the light of the evidence before the court, to hold that the exercise was an act of deception. On this charge, the no-case submission by the defendants succeeds.”
On counts 2, 4 and 5, the court held that: “After reviewing the evidence, I am of the view that there is a ground to proceed. The defendants need to demonstrate how the provision of section 15(2) of the Public Procurement Act 2007 exempted them from tender. In the absence of such demonstration, I am convinced that the defendants need to enter their defence on this. I therefore overrule the defendants no-case submission on account of count 2, 4 and 5.”
The defendants were equally discharged and acquitted on count three as the court held that: “There is no ground to proceed on it. The charge is based on mere speculation and assumption that the contract was illegal.
“The prosecution did not conduct a proper investigation. It is only when a thorough investigation is conducted that it can unearth the facts. Suspicion is just what it is, no amount of suspicion can amount to a prima facie case. I therefore discharge the defendants on this count.”
Justice Dimgba equally discharged the defendants on count six and seven on similar grounds but were ordered to enter their defence in respect of counts 2, 4, 5 and 11, bordering on breached of public procurement and abuse of office.
The court held that: “Lives were lost in the course of the physical recruitment exercise as a result of stampede and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd defendants as principal officers have some explanations to make as why safety measures were not put in place, during the exercise.”
Meanwhile, the trial has been adjourned to October 29 and 30 for the defendants to enter their defence.