NIS recruitment: Court frees ex-minister, Abba Morro, of seven charges

•Fixes Oct 29 for Morro to open defence

The Federal High Court, Abuja on Thursday discharged a former Minister of Interior, Senator Abba Moro, of seven out of the 11-count criminal charge preferred against him by the Federal Government.

The court specifically discharged Moro in the counts bordering on fraud and money laundering and ordered him to open his defence in the counts relating to breach of procurement laws as a public servant.

The former minister, now a senator, is standing trial on an 11-count criminal charge bordering on money laundering and procurement fraud to the tune of N675,675,000.

He is being tried alongside a former secretary in the ministry, Mrs Anastasia Daniel-Nwobia; a deputy director in the ministry, F. O. Alayebami; Mahmood Ahmadu and Drexel Tech Nigeria Limited, a firm involved in the ill-fated 2014 nationwide recruitment exercise of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) that resulted in the deaths of some applicants.

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), prosecuting on behalf of the Federal Government called over 10 witnesses before closing its case in November last year.

Instead of opening their defence, the defendants including the former minister, filed a no-case submission on the ground that the anti-graft agency failed to establish any element of crime preferred against him and his co-defendants in the charge.

Ruling on the no-case submission on Thursday, the trial judge, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, agreed partially with Moro and other defendants that the prosecution failed to prove its case against them.

The judge held that Moro, Mrs Daniel-Nwobia and Alayebami had a case to answer in four of the counts and discharged and acquitted Dretex Tech Nigeria Limited and its owner, Alhaji Ahmadu Mohammed from the entire charges.

Dretex was a private Information Communication Technology (ICT) company used by the Ministry of Interior under Moro to carry out the 2014 recruitment exercise that brought about the criminal trial.

Justice Dimgba held that the defendants have some explanations to make in counts 2, 4, 5 and 11 as it relates to breach of the Public Procurement Act, No. 65 of 2007 in the contract awards.

The award of the contract to Drexel Tech Nig Ltd, the EFCC claimed, had no prior advertisement, no needs assessment, adding that no procurement plan was carried out before the contract was awarded.

The EFCC further alleged that the contract was awarded through a selective tendering procedure by invitation of four firms without seeking the approval of the Bureau for Public Procurement (BPP), contrary to sections 40, 42 and 43 of the Public Procurement Act, No. 65 of 2007 and punishable under section 58 of the same act.

Justice Dimgba held that contrary to the prosecution’s claim, Drexel Tech Global Nigeria Limited was a registered company with the legal capacity to enter into the said contract.

In addition, the court held that evidence placed before it showed that the contract for the recruitment exercise received the approval of relevant authorities including the e-registration exercise.

On counts 2, 4 and 5, the court held that: “After reviewing the evidence, I am of the view that there is a ground to proceed. The defendants need to demonstrate how the provision of section 15(2) of the Public Procurement Act 2007 exempted them from tender. In the absence of such demonstration, I am convinced that the defendants need to enter their defence on this. I therefore overrule the defendants no-case submission on account of count 2, 4 and 5.”

The defendants were equally discharged and acquitted on count three as the court held that: “There is no ground to proceed on it. The charge is based on mere speculation and assumption that the contract was illegal.

Justice Dimgba equally discharged the defendants on count six and seven on similar grounds but were ordered to enter their defence in respect of counts 2, 4, 5 and 11, bordering on breach of public procurement and abuse of office.

The court held that: “Lives were lost in the course of the physical recruitment exercise as a result of a stampede and the first, second and third defendants as principal officers have some explanations to make as to why safety measures were not put in place, during the exercise.”

Meanwhile, the court has adjourned till October 29 and 30, 2020 for the defendants to enter their defence.

 

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