From James Ojo, Abuja
Two military officers fingered in the alleged stealing of military pension funds to the tune of N339 million have been remanded in prison custody on the order of the Federal Capital Territory High Court, Abuja.
The suspects, Wing Commander Ishaka Yakubu and Lieutenant Commander Akinbamidele Odunsi were alleged to have worked in concert with two bank officials, Adidemi Aderemi Kolade and Violet Ofoegbunam to collect monies meant for payment of death benefits to deceased army officers, which they converted to personal use.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission ((EFCC), which dragged them before Justice D. Z. Senchi said their action breached Section 315 of the Penal Code Act Cap 532 LFN (Abuja) 1990, and punishable under the same Act.
They were arraigned on a six-count charge of conspiracy and stealing of pension funds.
One of the counts read: “That you, Wing Commander Ishaka Yakubu ‘m’ while serving as a cashier with the Military Pension Board, Lieutenant Commander Akinbamidele Odunsi ‘m’ being an Assistant Director, computer, while serving with the Military Pension Board, Mrs Abidemi Aderemi Kolade ‘f’ being a relationship manager while serving with United Bank for Africa Plc, Kuforudua branch, Abuja and Violet Ofoegbunam ‘f’ being a branch manager while serving with UBA Plc, Kuforodua branch, Abuja, on or about February, 2016 in Abuja within the jurisdiction of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, while being entrusted with dominion over money belonging to the Nigeria Military Pension Board dishonestly converted to your own use the sum of N339.374 million only which was withdrawn from the Military Pension Board’s account with pretence that the said sum represented payments to the supposed next of kin to deceased Nigerian as death benefit; that the said monies were paid and withdrawn in tranches and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 97 of the Penal Code Cap 532 LFN (Abuja) 1990.”
The defendants pleaded not guilty to the charge.
In view of their plea, counsel to the EFCC, Steve Odiase, asked the court to fix a date for hearing and to remand the accused persons in custody pending trial.
Odiase invited the court to take note of the fact that Yakubu and Odunsi (first and second defendants) had on several dates refused to come to court, “an attempt aimed at frustrating efforts to have them arraigned over the alleged offence.”
He urged the court to impose stringent conditions should it be persuaded to admitting the defendants to bail.
However, Yakubu’s counsel, Patrick Ediale, informed the court of a pending application dated November 2 praying the court to admit his client to bail.
He urged the court to exercise its discretion in favour of the defendant saying, “he is presumed innocent until the contrary is proved.”
Other counsel in the defence also joined in seeking bail for their clients.
Justice Senchi, while ordering the remand of the defendants adjourned to November 13 for hearing of their applications.
The EFCC acting chairman, Mr. Ibrahim Magu, had in a letter dated May 23, 2017 and addressed to the Chief of Defence Staff, said the suspects, who were later charged with fraud offences on May 31, 2017, allegedly opened 33 accounts with UBA into which the Military Pension Board’s funds were diverted.
He said in the letter marked EFCC/EC/CDS/66/16 that the total sum of N339,374,478.58 was withdrawn from the Miltary Pension Board’s account across the counter or transferred to other accounts in the bank.