By Bankole Jamgbadi on September 26, 2014
Nigeria’s anti-graft agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, has reportedly dropped the 47 counts of N6bn fraud charges instituted against a former Minister of Works, Dr. Hassan Lawal, and nine others, before a Federal High Court, Abuja.
The accused were according to report from punch to be arraigned afresh before Justice Ahmed Mohammed on Thursday when the EFCC prosecuting counsel, Mr. Wahab Shittu, informed the court that he had “a firm instruction” of the commission to discontinue the charges.
The charges had been amended three times and the matter was to start de novo (afresh) after the former trial judge, Justice Adamu Bello, retired from the bench in December 2013.
Justice Mohammed, upon the oral application by Shittu, discharged the accused and “discharged” them.
Other accused persons who were discharged along with Lawal were Dr. Adeola Ademola, Dave Enejoh, Okala Yakubu and Thahal Paul.
The remaining five accused, which are companies, were Digital Toll Company Ltd, Swede Control Intertek Ltd, Proman Vital Ventures Ltd, Wise Health Services Ltd and Abbey Building Society.
Many Nigerians had criticised a similar act by the Federal Government when the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mohammed Adoke, on June 18, withdrew the N446.3bn theft charges against Mohammed Abacha, son of a former Head of State, the late Gen. Sani Abacha.
Lawal and others were being prosecuted for fraudulently obtaining a total sum of N6.41bn from the Federal Government, Kogi and Nasarawa State governments between 2006 and 2009 under a public-private partnership concession scheme for the construction of a bridge across River Benue.
The bridge projected to cost N24.36bn and was due for commencement on May 21, 2007 and completion on May 20, 2009, was to link Guto and Bangana in Nasarawa and Kogi states respectively.
The federal and the two other state governments were said to have contributed N6.14bn to the joint account as stipulated by the agreement while the private partners in the scheme made no contribution.
Over 130 exhibits had been tendered while it was being heard by the retired Justice Adamu.
Shittu gave no reason for the withdrawal of the charges on Thursday.
He said, “I have firm instruction that the case against the accused persons, all of them, be discontinued.
“To be assure you that I did not make the application out of my own volition I asked them to put it in writing and they did. So, as an obedient servant, I have no other choice than to carry out the instruction. I hereby apply that the charges be discontinued and the accused persons be discharged.”
Counsel for the other accused did not oppose the application for discontinuance. But one of the lawyers, Samson Ameh (SAN), urged the court not to only discharge the accused persons but to also acquit them.
Shittu, however, urged the court to refuse to make an acquittal order on the grounds that the accused had not been arraigned before the new judge, and that the application for discontinuance was “without prejudice to the merit or otherwise of the matter.”