Godwin Tsa Abuja
The Abuja division of the Federal High Court on Thursday ordered former Interior Minister, Mr. Abba Moro to enter his defence in the charges bordering on the ill-fated recruitment exercise into the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) in 2014.
Justice Nnamdi Dimgba who delivered judgment in the no-case submission filed by the defendants however discharged and acquit Abba Moro on seven out of the 11 count-criminal charges relating to money laundering and obtaining by false pretence.
EFCC had slammed an 11- count charge bordering on obtaining by false pretence, procurement fraud and money laundering on Mr Moro; permanent secretary of the ministry at the time, Anastasia Daniel-Nwobia; a deputy director in the ministry, F. O Alayebami; one Mahmood Ahmadu(at large), and the contracting firm given the recruitment job, Drexel Tech Nigeria Ltd.
The defendants are accused of defrauding 676, 675,000 (Six Hundred and Seventy Six Thousand, Six Hundred and Seventy Five) Nigerian applicants of N676,675,000 (Six Hundred and Seventy Six Million, Six Hundred and Seventy Five Thousand Naira).
The prosecution informed the court that the applicants paid N1000 each through an e-payment platform for their online recruitment exercise into the Nigerian Immigration Service.
The court held that the defendants have some explanations to make as it relates to counts 2, 4, 5 and 11 as it relates to breached of the Public Procurement Act, No. 65 of 2007 in the contract awards by not following the necessary procedure laid down by the government.
The award of the contract to Drexel Tech Nig Ltd, the EFCC said had no prior advertisement, no needs assessment and a procurement plan was not carried out before the contract was awarded.
The contract was awarded through selective tendering procedure by invitation of 4 (Four) firms without seeking the approval of the Bureau for Public Procurement, contrary to sections 40, 42 and 43 of the Public Procurement Act, No. 65 of 2007 and punishable under section 58 of the same act, the anti-graft agency said.
Drexel Tech Global Nigeria Limited, the company that provided the online enlistment and recruitment services was discharged and acquitted and will not be facing further trial.
Justice Dimgba held that contrary to the prosecution claim that Drexel Tech Global Nigeria Limited was a registered company with the legal capacity to enter into the said contract.
In addition, the court held that evidence placed before it showed that the contract for the recruitment exercise received the approval of relevant authorities including the e-registration exercise.
Justice Dimgba held that “there is no ground for proceeding with count one which relates to conspiracy as the charge was based on inference and nothing more.
“None of the said applicants was invited by the prosecution to testify to the payment of the N1000 to access the e-portal. Unfortunately, the prosecution could not call a single job-seeker who applied for the job to give evidence. This is in itself fatal to this count.
“The evidence adduced by prosecution witnesses contradict the charge as the Ministry secured all the necessary approvals from relevant authorities for the recruitment exercise.
“The said recruitment process was not arbitrary but was approved by relevant authorities. It makes no common sense in the light of the evidence before the court, to hold that the exercise was an act of deception. On this charge, the no-case submission by the defendants succeeds.”
On counts 2, 4 and 5, the court held that “after reviewing the evidence, I am of the view that there is a ground to proceed. The defendants need to demonstrate how the provision of section 15(2) of the Public Procurement Act 2007 exempted them from tender. In the absence of such demonstration, I am convinced that the defendants need to enter their defence on this. I therefore overrule the defendants no-case submission on account of count 2, 4 and 5.
The defendants were equally discharged and acquitted on count three as the court held that “there is no ground to proceed on it. The charge is based on mere speculation and assumption that the contract was illegal.
“The prosecution did not conduct a proper investigation. It is only when a thorough investigation is conducted that it can unearth the facts. Suspicion is just what it is, no amount of suspicion can amount to a prima facie case. I therefore discharged the defendants on this count.
Justice Dimgba equally discharged the defendants on count six and seven on similar grounds but were ordered to enter their defence in respect of counts 2, 4, 5 and 11, bordering on breached of public procurement and abuse of office.
The court held that “lives were lost in the course of the physical recruitment exercise as a result of stampede and the 1st, 2nd and 3rd defendants as principal officers have some explanations to make as why safety measures were not put in place, during the exercise.”
Meanwhile, the trial has been adjourned to October 29 and 30 respectively.