From Agaju Madugba, Katsina
The trial of a former Katsina State governor, Ibrahim Shehu Shema, effectively took off yesterday at a Katsina High Court after three adjournments over arguments by the prosecution and defence counsels regarding the competence of the court to handle the matter.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had arraigned Shema along with three others on allegations of fraudulent conversion of various sums of public funds to personal use while they held public offices.
The others standing trial with Shema are, a former commissioner for Local Governments, Sani Hamisu Makana, a former Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of Local Governments, Ahmed Mohammed Safana, and a former Chairman of ALGON Ibrahim Dankaba.
At the resumption of proceedings yesterday, the presiding judge, Justice Ibrahim Bako Maikaita, dismissed the application by Shema’s lead counsel, Joseph Daudu (SAN) which contended that the court lacked the jurisdiction to try the case.
In his ruling, the judge said the court has juridiction and granted Shema N1 billion bail.
described the EFCC as an agency of the Federal Government with powers to investigate and prosecute cases of financial and related crimes in any part of the country.
Following the development, the court read the 22 count charges against the accused persons to which they pleaded, “not guilty.” The charges border on what the prosecution described as criminal breach of trust, abuse of office and diversion of public funds amounting to a total of N11 billion.
In his prayers for bail, Daudu urged the court to take into cognisance Shema’s previous status as two-term governor as well as a former Attorney-General of the state arguing further that all the alleged offences were bailable and that there was ample evidence to show that the prosecution had concluded its investigations.
“We urge the court to grant the accused persons bail on self recognition given that they have (been consistent), since the commencement of this matter. Moreover, the accused persons are anxious to clear their names of the allegations,” Daudu said.
But counsel to the EFCC, Jibril Samuel Okutepa, urged the court to dismiss the oral bail application considering, as he explained, Section 341 of the Criminal Procedure Code under which the accused persons are being tried, “these offences are not ordinarily bailable and bail cannot be considered based on oral application.
Okutepa described charges one to eight as capable of attracting up to seven years in prison while charges nine to 22 may earn the accused persons up to 14 years each in jail.
He also dismissed the argument concerning Shema’s status as untenable, as, according to him, “they are now accused persons and the law is no respecter of any persons. Sentiment is not a factor to consider in this matter but there should be available material which should be in affidavit evidence.
‘The temptation to abscond is now higher since this court has taken charge and there is no assurance that they will not run away.”
Adjourning to trial to March 28, 29 and 30, the court granted the accused persons in a total sum of N4 billion and four sureties. The accused persons promptly met the bail conditions.
Meanwhile, the State House of Assembly has passed the state’s N140 billion 2017 budget with a capital expenditure of N96.357 billion and recurrent expenditure of N43.8 billion.
This followed the adoption of the amendments to the budget as
presented by Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriation, Alhaji Hambali Faruk.
Faruk said that there were few amendments to some sections of the original budget estimates earlier proposed by Governor Aminu Bello Masari and expressed hope that the 2017 fiscal year holds more prospects in terms of budget revenue.
Compared to the 2016, which he said recorded a 75 per cent revenue performance Faruk noted that the current budget has an opening balance of over N24 billion including N20 billion being a refund from the Paris Club and other miscellaneous revenues.
The Speaker, Alhaji Abubakar Yahaya, directed the Clerk of the House to transmit the document to the governor for his assent and subsequent implementation.
Tagged “Budget of Stabilization,” Masari had put the total recurrent revenue to finance the budget at N75.6 billion comprising of N10.8 billion as internally generated revenue, N8.6 billion as other internal revenues and N56.1 billion as revenue receivable through the Federation Account.
According to the governor, in line with the Transformation Agenda of his administration, education, health, water resources, agriculture, environment, works, housing and transport will continue to get priority attention in the allocation of funds and execution of policies in the course of implementation of the budget.