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N5.2BN SCAM: UGBANE, OTHERS MUST FACE TRIAL, COURT INSISTS

By NBF News

An Abuja Federal High Court on Monday ruled that former House Committee Chairman on Power, Ndidi Elumelu, Senate Committee Chairman on Power, Nicholas Ugbane and seven others have a case to answer.

Elumelu, Ugbane and others are facing trial over N5.2 billion Rural Electrification Agenc (REA) contract scam.

Justice Umar Garba, ruling on an application brought before him by Elumelu and his co-travellers in the suit instituted against them by the EFCC seeking the quashing of all the charges preferred against them, says that the application lacked merit and could not stand the test of time. 'There is sufficient evidence for the accused persons to answer the call of justice, therefore this application stands dismissed,' Justice Garba said.

He added: 'If you are not satisfied with my ruling, you can go on appeal but as far as I am concerned and in view of the proof of evidence before me, you all have a case to answer.'

Prosecution counsel, Godwin Obla, in his argument before the court, had said the application brought by the accused persons was in bad faith. He further argued that the accused persons were involved in a grand conspiracy to commit various criminal misconducts, ranging from misappropriation of over N10 billion from the account of Rural Electrification Agency, misappropriation of unspent funds at the end of the year instead of returning same to treasury, among other offences.

Others are misappropriation of N500 million to buy houses; diversion of Rural Electrification Agency's funds; flouting of government's rules on award of contracts and award of fictitious and unnecessary contracts without following due process.

According to the EFCC's counsel, preliminary findings also indicated that Elumelu and Ugbane, in their capacities as chairman, House Committee on Power and chairman, Senate Committee on Power, respectively were involved in conducting procurement fraud by means of fraudulent and undue interest in influencing procurement processes to obtain undue advantage in contract award in Rural Electrification Agency.

He also alleged that Senator Ugbane was one of the members of the National Assembly that initiated the Grid Extension and Solar Electrification contracts and included the same in the 2008 budget of the Rural Electrification Agency.

'That the said Grid Extension and Solar Electrification contracts were used as conduit pipes with which funds of the Rural Electrification Agency were siphoned and were awarded to companies either not pre-qualified to be awarded the contract or were phony or non-existing companies,' Obla had said in his counter affidavit in opposition to the application to quash the charges against them.

He pointed out that former managing director of REA, Mr. Samuel Ibi Gekpe, admitted in his statement, contained in the proof of evidence, that staff of REA were shown the sites for the purported solar base projects in Senator Ugbane's constituency in Kogi State, stressing that the Senator also showed heavy interest in the companies that lifted the contracts for the purported Grid Extension and Solar base projects.

Obla prayed the court to discountenance the prayers of the accused persons, pointing out that the nature of the offences for which they are charged are felonious and carry severe sentences of up to five years imprisonment without an option of fine, adding 'that only the court has the jurisdiction to determine whether or not, the Proof of Evidence discloses a prima facie case and not the accused persons or their counsel.' With the ruling of Justice Umar, the coast is now clear for their full trial.

The other seven who are being prosecuted in the new amended charges are: the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Power, Abdulahi Aliyu; the Managing Director, REA, Samuel Gekpe, Simon Nanle, Lawrence Orekoya; Abdulsamad Jahun; Kayode Oyedeji, Igwe Paulinus, and Jibo Mohammed.