ABUJA—Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, yesterday, docked former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir Lawal, before an Abuja High Court at Maitama, following his alleged complicity in a N272 million contract fraud.
Lawal, whose arraignment came about two years after he was accused of illegally diverting a contract the Presidential Initiative for North-East, PINE, awarded for the removal of grasses in Internally Displaced Persons, IDP, camps, to his own company, pleaded not guilty to the 10-count criminal charge the EFCC preferred against him.
The ex-SGF was docked alongside three other defendants, including Hamidu David Lawal, Sulaiman Abubakar and Apeh John Monday as well as two firms that were allegedly involved in the grass-cutting scandal, Rholavision Engineering Limited and Josmon Technologies Limited.
Shortly after the arraignment, trial Justice Jude Okeke ordered that all the defendants be remanded in EFCC custody till today when their separate bail applications will be considered.
The agency contended that Lawal and his alleged accomplices were unable to present sufficient materials that would enable the court exercise its discretionary powers to release them on bail. Besides, EFCC said it was opposed to the court allowing Lawal to go home on the basis of a mere oral bail application.
The embattled former SGF had after his plea, begged the court to grant him bail on self- recognition, vowing to make himself available for his trial. His lawyer, Chief Akin Olujinmi, SAN, informed the court that the anti-graft agency had earlier released his client on administrative bail. He said the EFCC had even allowed his client to travel abroad for medical treatment while the investigation was ongoing.
“My lord he could have ran away when he was given his passport, but he went and came back. The 1st defendant is not one that will run away from his trial. ‘’Moreover my lord, the prosecution has concluded its investigations, so the 1st defendant has not way to interfere with the investigation,’’ he said. Olujinmi told the court that EFCC declined to accept service of Lawal’s written bail application.
Similarly, all the other defendants who also said they were previously on administrative bail, relied on provisions of sections 35 and 36 of the 1999 Constitution, as well as sections 158, 162 and 165 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, and prayed the court to grant them bail, pending their trial.
Countering this, the EFCC maintained that the defendants, including the ex-SGF, did not run away from the country while on administrative bail, considering that no formal charge was pending against them before any court as at that time. After he had listened to all the parties, Justice Okeke adjourned ruling on the defendants’ bail applications.
Meanwhile, one of the counts in the charge marked CR/158/19, read: “That you Engineer Babachir David Lawal while being the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and a director of Rholavision Engineering Ltd, Hamidu David lawal being a Director of Rholavision Engineering Ltd, Sulaiman Abubakar being a staff of Rholavision Engineering Ltd and Rholavision Engineering Ltd on or about the 7th of March, 2016 at Abuja in the Abuja Judicial Division of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory did conspire to commit an offence to wit: fraudulent acquisition of property and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 26 (1) (c) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000 and punishable under Section 12 of the same Act.”