El-Rufai converted PHCN land for personal use, former PHCN boss tells court

Nasir El-Rufai

Mr. El-Rufai, and two of his former colleagues are undergoing trial for alleged abuse of office

Nov. 8 (PREMIUM TIMES) — Some of the lands the former Minister of Abuja, Nasir El-Rufai, allocated to his family members including, two of his wives, Hadiza and Hasiya, were originally meant for developmental projects within Abuja, a witness in the ongoing trial of the former minister has said.

Michael Okoye, the witness and a retired Assistant Manager at Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, said the contentious Plot 1201 in the Asokoro District of the nation’s capital was originally allocated by the Federal Capital Development Authority, FCDA, to the PHCN for the construction of a sub-station.

He said the land was for the construction of a 132/33 KVA transmitting/injection sub-station.

Mr. El-Rufai; a former Director-General of the Abuja Geographic Information System, AGIS, Altine Jibrin; and former General Manager of AGIS, Ismail Iro, are standing trial for abuse of office.

The EFCC is prosecuting the trio for allegedly converting the land to personal use.

Mr. El-Rufai is also being accused of allocating 10 plots of land in Asokoro District to members of his family. The EFCC claimed the accused committed the offence between 2003 and 2007.

Led in evidence by EFCC counsel, Wahab Ibiwole, Mr. Okoye, who was also in charge of the project department of PHCN, said the land was allocated to the power company in 2003.

He told the court the plot was meant for a power sub-station. He said that when he noticed that Plot 1201 was being tampered with, he constructed block-work fence to secure the place, but that he fence was later pulled down.

The witness claimed that he does not know who encroached on the plot and denied that PHCN showed intention to surrender or reduce the size of the plot before he disengaged from service in June 2008.

Mr. Okoye said the encroachment reduced the plot size from 2.5 hectares to 1.5 hectares. PHCN, Okoye testified, reacted to the encroachment by writing a letter to the minister of power, complaining that they never indicated disinterest in the plot.

“When PHCN realised the encroachment, we wrote to the then minister of power informing him that Plot 1201 had been encroached upon by unknown people.

“The PHCN also told the minister that it still needed the land for the construction of the station which will improve power supply to residents of the city,” he said.

A confused witness

During cross- examination by Kanu Agabi, Mr. Iro’s counsel, the prosecution witness said he saw an FCDA letter dated July 2003 allocating Plot 1201 Asokoro to the PHCN.

He admitted that an exhibit presented by Mr. Agabi was the letter he saw. But when he was asked to read the comments inscribed on it, he denied ever seeing that copy.

The remark on the exhibit is that the FCDA has no power to allocate land, and that there was no FCT minister at the time the letter was written.

Counsel to the prosecution admitted that they tendered the document, but without the remarks, and that they would be clarifying the matter later.

A former executive secretary of the FCDA, Mohammed Alhassan, who appeared as a prosecution witness, had testified in December 2011 that he conveyed the allocation of the plot to the PHCN, via a letter in July 2003, which did not have a specific date. He attributed the non-inclusion of a specific day on the letter to oversight.

Mr. El-Rufai’s counsel had told the court that the land was allocated to the PHCN at a time Abuja had no minister. He recalled that the previous FCT minister left office on May 29, 2003, while he (Mr. El-Rufai) assumed duties  on July 16 of the same year; and so there was no minister to have allocated the land to the PHCN.

Though Mr. Alhassan admitted that he did not have the power to allocate land, he was unable to show any approval by any minister allocating the plot to PHCN.

Abuja land laws vests powers of land allocation in the hands of any serving minister of the Nigerian capital.

The adjournment

The frequent adjournments plaguing several corruption cases against former public officials also occurred on Thursday during the hearing.

While the cross-examination was ongoing, Mr. Agabi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, sought an adjournment to enable him attend a lecture he was to deliver at a seminar of the Nigerian Bar Association, Abuja branch.

None of the other counsels opposed the adjournment.

Justice Abubakar Umar adjourned the trial to December 11 when Mr. Okoye’s cross-examination is expected to continue.

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