Godwin Tsa, Abuja
The planned re-arraignment of the Bauchi State governor-elect, Senator Bala Mohammed, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) over six-count criminal charges has been stalled, following the absence of Justice Yusuf Halilu of the Maitama district of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Although Mohammed and his counsel, Chief Chris Uche, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), were in court before 9am just as the prosecution counsel, Wahab Shitu, the arraignment could not take place following the absence of the judge in court.
A clerk of the court simply informed them that the arraignment would not take place, as the judge was not in town. The development gave rise to accusations and counter accusations between the two parties involved in the case.
While Mohammed described the charges against him as politically induced, the Commission denied the allegations, saying his trial had commenced since 2017, a long time before the 2019 election.
Mohammed’s counsel said the charges against him “are baseless as there is no substantial evidence to support it.
“The whole thing is politically motivated and unnecessary distraction against the defendant, who has been elected by his people to lead them. “This is somebody who has immunity by virtue of the certificate of return issued to him by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) as an elected governor of Bauchi State.
“So, the whole thing is politics playing out just to embarrass him.”
But the prosecution counsel, Wahab Shitu, described them as baseless. He said the Commission did not file fresh charges against the defendant as the case was transferred from another judge who has been elevated to the Court of Appeal.
“Let me say that the EFCC does not play politics as alleged. This is not a fresh case; the trail has been ongoing before Justice Abubakar Talba, who has been elevated to the Court of Appeal. It is a transferred case, which is expected to start de novo (afresh).
“It is the court that invited us here today for the re-arraignment through the hearing notice served on us. So, it is wrong for anybody to suggest that the EFCC is playing politics or out to witch-hunt anybody,” Shitu explained.
Meanwhile, no new date has been fixed for the arraignment, but Daily Sun gathered that the exercise would take place before May 29.
The former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory was on May 11, 2017, arraigned before Justice Talba, where he pleaded not guilty and was granted bail.
However, following the elevation of Justice Talba to the bench of the Court of Appeal, the case that had reached an advanced stage was transferred to another judge, Justice Halilu for adjudication.
The EFCC had in a charge marked CR/177/17, bordering on accepting gratification and acquisition of landed property, accused the former FCT minister of accepting gratification in the form of a house valued at N550 million on No 2599 and 2600 Cadastral Zone, AO4 Asokoro District, Abuja, from Aso Savings and Loans Plc in 2014.
The prosecuting counsel, Mr. Shittu, said the alleged gratification was accepted by Mohammed as a reward “for performing his official duties.” The alleged offence, according to the commission, is contrary to Section 18 (b) of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act 2000 and punishable under Section 18 (d).
Mohammed is also accused of making a false statement to an EFCC investigating officer, Ishaya Dauda, that he acquired the Cadastral Zone property through a mortgage facility from Aso Savings and Loans.
The anti-graft agency further accused the defendant of failing to make full disclosure of his property on 54, Mike Akhigbe Street, Jabi, Abuja, in the course of filing his asset declaration form at the EFCC.