A Federal High Court in Abuja has issued a bench warrant for the arrest of four officials of the Nigeria Football Federation (NFF) accused of misappropriating funds belonging to the football body.
Justice Ijeoma Ojukwu gave the order on Monday after the case involving the NFF officials, including the President, Amaju Pinnick, was called and they were absent in court.
Justice Ojukwu gave the order for the issuance of bench warrant against the second to fifth defendants, upon an oral application by the prosecution lawyer, Celcius Ukpong, who argued that defendants had no reason not to be in court to answer to the charge.
Those to be affected by the arrest order are NFF Secretary, Sunusi Mohammed; the 1st Vice-President, Seyi Akinwumi; the 2nd Vice-President, Shehu Dikko and an Executive member, Yusuff Fresh.
The Federal Government, through the Special Presidential Investigation Panel for the Recovery of Public Property (SPIP) had earlier this year, filed a 17-count charge, marked FHC/ABJ/CR/93/2019, before the court, in which its accused the NFF officials of alleged misappropriation of $8,400,000 belonging to the football body.
The money was said to have been paid by the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) to the NFF as appearance fees in the group state of the Russia 2018 World Cup.
The defendants are also accused of “moving dishonestly and intentionally the sum of about N4bn” belonging to the NFF without the consent of the NFF.
When the case was called on Monday for arraignment, the defendants were absent, prompting the judge to inquire about their whereabouts from the prosecution lawyer, Ukpong.
Ukpong told the court that he as surprised the defendants were not in court despite being aware of the charge and the date fixed for arraignment.
He consequently applied for the issuance of a bench warrant for the arrest and production of the defendants in court on the next adjourned date.
Responding, lawyer to the defendant, Olawole Olaniji prayed the court against granting the prosecution’s prayer.
Olaniji said the defendants were outside the country to attend the ongoing football tournament being organised by the Confederation of African Football (CAF).
When asked by the judge what roles the defendants have in Egypt (where the tournament as being held) when they were neither coaches nor players, the lawyer said they were members of CAF’s organising committee and that it was required that they be part of the tournament.
Ukpong, however, faulted the defence lawyer’s claim, arguing that the defendants, particularly the second to fifth defendants have no business at the tournament.
He read out a list of members of the Federal Government’s delegation to the tournament and noted that the defendants were not on the list.
In her ruling, Justice Ojukwu granted the prosecution’s application by ordering the issuance of bench warrant for the arrest of the second to fifth defendants for them to be produced at the next adjourned date.
The judge, however, added that arrest order may not apply if they are able to provide evidence that they were members of any government’s delegation to the tournament and were officially authorised to attend.
Justice Ojukwu then adjourned further hearing until September 26, 2019.