Alex Enumah in Abuja
Former Minister of Interior, Senator Abba Moro, has been discharged in seven out of the 11-count criminal charges brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and was ordered by the court to open defence in four-count charges.
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 charges 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 last 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, Moro, 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 yesterday, the 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 breached of the Public Procurement Act, No. 65 of 2007 in the contract awards.
The award of the contract to Drexel, the EFCC claimed, had no prior advertisement and 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, 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, 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.
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 contradicts 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,” he said.
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.”
Meanwhile, the trial has been adjourned to October 29 and 30 for the defendants to enter their defence.