The scheduled commencement of trial in the N544million criminal case against ex-Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal and others was stalled on Monday owing the amendment effected on the charge by the prosecution.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had, on February 12 this year, arraigbed Lawal, his brother, Hamidu David Lawal (a director of Rholavision Engineering Limited), an employee of the company, Sulaiman Abubakar and the Managing Director of Josmon Technologies Limited, Apeh John Monday before Justice Jude Okeke of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in Maitama.
Arraigned with them, on the 10-count charge filed by the EFCC, are two firms – Rholavision Engineering Limited and Josmon Technologies Limited.
The ex-SGF was accused of benefiting illegally from the approval of N544,119,925.36 for the removal of invasive plant species and simplified irrigation.
It also alleged that Babachir Lawal knowingly held indirectly a private interest in the consultancy contract awarded to Rholavision Engineering Limited for the removal of invasive plant species and simplified irrigation to the tune of N7 million and N6.4 million.
After their arraignment, the defendant were admitted to bail, following which the court fixed March 18 for the prosecution to open its case by calling witnesses.
When the case was called on Monday, lead prosecution lawyer, Ufot Uket told the court that amended charge has been filed, which now includes Josmon Technologies Limited, in counts six, nine and 10.
Uket told the court that the amendment of the 10-count charge was informed by the omission of Josmon’s name in counts six, nine and 10.
He urged the court to append endorsement note on the charge in accordance with Section 218 (2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015.
Responding, lawyer to the ex-SGF, Akin Olujinmi (SAN) did not object to the amendment, but said he was opposed to Uket’s the application for endorsement note, an application, he argued, was misconceived.
Olujinmi said the prosecution ought to have filed a fresh charge instead of asking for an endorsement note.
He said the amendment would affect the commencement of trial, which was scheduled for Monday.
Other defence lawyers: D.N Idoko (second defendant); Napoleon Idenala (third defendant); Ocholi Okutekpa (fourth and sixth defendants) and Mercel Oru (fifth defendant) agreed with Olujinmi’s position.
Justice Okeke later granted the prosecution the permission to amend the charge in accordance with Section 218 of ACJA.
The judge ordered the prosecution to file a fresh charge instead of seeking an endorsement note on the amended charge.
The amended charge was later read to the defendants, to which they pleaded not guilty.
The judge allowed the defendants to continue to enjoy the bail earlier granted them and adjourned to April 11 for the commencement of trial.