Godwin Tsa, Abuja
Former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal, was yesterday re-arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for alleged fraudulent N544m grass cutting contract.
Lawal, who was docked alongside six others, however, pleaded not guilty when the amended 10-counts of fraud were read to them. They were arraigned before Justice Charles Agbaza of the Jabi division of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja.
The re-arraignment was sequel to the death of the trial judge, Justice Jude Okeke, on August 4, 2020. It was the second time the defendants would be re-arraigned on account of the alleged offences.
Others standing trial with the ex-SGF are his younger brother, Hamidu Lawal, Suleiman Abubakar, Apeh Monday and two companies – Rholavision Engineering Ltd and Josmon Technologies Ltd.
They were initially arraigned before the late Justice Okeke on February 13, 2019. The prosecuting counsel, Offem Uket, was to open his case on March 18, 2019, when he announced that he had amended the 10 counts, bordering on fraud, diversion of over N544 million and criminal conspiracy.
The development prompted the need for a re-arraignment of the defendants, who again pleaded not guilty to the charges. The trial had proceeded before Justice Okeke with the EFCC still calling its witnesses when the judge died.
Following the judge’s demise, the case was re-assigned to Justice Agbaza before whom the case was rescheduled to start afresh yesterday.
After the defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges yesterday, the defence lawyers pleaded with the judge to allow their clients 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 judge fixed January 20 to 22 for trial.