By Alex Enumah
The federal government on Thursday arraigned a former Chairman of the Board of the Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund (NSITF), Ngozi Olejeme, on a nine-count charge of abuse of office and fraud to the tune of N3 billion.
She was arraigned before Justice Maryam Aliyu of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court in Jabi, Abuja.
She however pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had earlier declared Olejeme as a wanted person in relation to the said offences.
In the nine-count charge, the anti-graft agency specifically accused Olejeme of abusing her office and position as then boss of NSITF. She was also accused of receiving bribe and awarding contracts without due process, among others.
However, following her not-guilty plea, the counsel to the EFCC, Steve Odiase, requested a date for the commencement of trial as well as the remand of the defendant pending trial.
Responding, Olejeme’s lawyer, Paul Erokoro (SAN), informed the court about his client’s bail application, which he urged should be granted either on self recognisance or on liberal terms.
Erokoro said the defendant returned to the country in 2017 on her own volition on hearing that she was declared wanted for questioning by the EFCC.
He said she reported to the EFCC, questioned and was granted bail, adding that she has been reporting to the EFCC since then.
Erokoro assured the judge that since the defendant has remained faithful to the bail granted her by the EFCC, she will be available for trial.
He added that the bail application was based on medical grounds, which include that she has been diabetic and hypertensiive for 30 years; she, in recent time, had four surgeries in the United States and South Africa.
Erokoro told the court that the defendant suffered heart failure four months ago and also contracted COVID-19, but is currently recovering from it.
He said the defendant is scheduled for one follow-up surgery next month in South Africa, and that his client would apply for permission to travel for that purpose.
However, Odiase while not opposing the bail application, argued that she be ordered to produce a surety pending the conclusion of the trial.
In a short ruling, Justice Aliyu adjourned till Friday for ruling on the bail application and ordered that the defendant be kept in the custody of the EFCC.
In one of the counts, Olejeme was alleged to have “dishonestly received the sum of N22,200,000.00” from a contractor with NSITF into her personal account No. 32327505058110 at GT Bank.
Olejeme was also accused of receiving $48,485,127.00, which was dollars equivalent of some funds received from contractors as “kickback”.