* As trial starts afresh
By Alex Enumah
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission(EFCC) on Monday re-arraigned a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr Babachir Lawal, and six others on a 10-count amended charge of alleged fraud to the tune of N544 million.
The defendants, who are being accused of defrauding the government through the award of a grass cutting contract in the North-east were re-arraigned before Justice Charles Agbaza of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in Jabi, Abuja.
Others arraigned alongside the former SGF are his younger brother, Hamidu Lawal, Suleiman Abubakar, Apeh Monday and two companies – Rholavision Engineering Ltd and Josmon Technologies Ltd.
They were first arraigned in February 2019 before Justice Jude Okeke on a 10-count charge to which they pleaded not guilty.
Following their not-guilty plea, they were admitted to bail and trial commenced with the prosecution calling several witnesses to prove its case against the defendants.
However, following the unfortunate demise of Justice Okeke on August 4, 2020, the matter was transferred to Justice Agbaza, who by law have to start the matter afresh.
Consequently, Lawal and his co-defendants were on Monday re-arraigned to take a fresh plea, this time before Justice Agbaza.
Again, they pleaded not guilty to all the 10-count charge read against them, prompting their lawyers to request from the judge an order permitting the defendants to continue to enjoy the bail already granted them by the former judge.
Aside from Chief Akin Olujinmi (SAN), who represented the ex-SGF, the rest of the defence lawyers are Mr Sunday Ameh (SAN), Napoleon Idenala, Ocholi Okutepa and Marcel Oru.
The lawyers had separately pleaded with the court to allow their clients to continue to enjoy the bail granted by late Justice Okeke who was hearing the matter before his demise.
They assured the court that the defendants will continue to keep to the terms of their bails, while the defendants also undertook to attend trial always.
In a short ruling, Justice Agbaza granted the prayers of the defence lawyers and allowed the defendants to continue to enjoy the terms of bail granted them by late Justice Okeke.
The court noted that it was inclined to grant the request because from the records, the defendants have been attending court for their trial.
He subsequently adjourned to January 20 to 22 for trial.
Following his sack in October 2017 by President Muhammadu Buhari over alleged mismanagement of funds of the Presidential Initiative on the North East, the EFCC had filed charges against the defendants, accusing them amongst other things of “fraudulently converting cumulative proceeds of grass cutting contracts worth over N500m which Lawal, as then SGF, allegedly awarded to the companies in which he had interests”.