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By NBF News
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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has re- arraigned a former minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai and two others on a newly-amended eight-count charge before a Federal Capital Territory High Court presided over by Justice Sadiq Abubakar Umar. The two other accused persons are former director-general, Abuja Geographic Information System (AGIS); Altine Jubrin, and former general- manager, AGIS, Ismail Iro.

All the accused persons pleaded not guilty to the charges preferred against them. Their arraignment on Thursday April 7, 2011 followed a ruling by the trial judge last week dismissing the objection raised by the former minister and others to their trial. The judge had held that the charges against them were not only proper but that the EFCC also has the power to prosecute them for graft.

The charge was filed against the accused persons based on findings from a petition to EFCC, chronicling allegations of abuse of office and graft against El-Rufai. He was accused of allocating government land to his friends and family members, in flagrant breach of the Abuja master plan. According to the petition, the former minister, between 2003-2007, allocated ten plots of land in choice areas of Abuja and in various sizes to his family members, including his wife, Hadiza Isma El-Rufai, who got two plots- one in the Asokoro district and the other in the Kubwa district.

When they were to be arraigned on March 28, 2011, the accused questioned the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the matter saying that the ICPC Act 2000, under which the accused persons were charged, had been repealed and could therefore, not be used as a legal platform for their trial. They also argued that the EFCC lacked the power to prosecute them as the entire allegation against them did not constitute financial crimes.

But counsel to the EFCC, Adebayo Adelodun (SAN) had submitted that El-Rufai and the other accused persons were newly brought before the court on the basis of an eight amended charges and urged the court to allow their immediate arraignment. He pointed out that, 'as a matter of law and fact, the objection on this ground has become mute, spent and academic by reason that the prosecution had filed an amended charge.' He vehemently opposed the plank upon which the defence counsel based their objection to the arraignment saying that the objection was doomed since it was based on an un-reported decision of a Court of Appeal that had been voided by the Supreme Court.

The court however granted EFCC leave to prosecute the former Minister, and two others on the amended eight count charge. This, the court said was in accordance to Section 208(1) of the Criminal Procedure Code and the EFCC Establishment Act.

When the case came up on Thursday, the accused took their plea, as Akin Olujimi, SAN, counsel to first and second accused persons applied for bail on behalf of his clients saying he had earlier filed an application to that effect ealier in the day which had been served on the prosecution counsel. He placed his request for bail on the fact that it had been granted to them by EFCC and also by Justice Adamu Bello, when the accused were initially arraigned before a Federal High Court. He also stressed that the duo had completely complied with the conditions of the administrative bail given to them by EFCC.