El-Rufai and two others were accused of illegally converting Plot 1201, meant for the building of a transmitting/injection sub-station for the PHCN in Asokoro.
An Abuja high court today reserved ruling on a no-case submission made by a former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, Nasir El-Rufai, on a case concerning an alleged conversion of land in Abuja.
The defence counsel in the trial of Mr. El-Rufai, Altine Jibrin, former director-general of the Abuja Geographic Information System (AGIS) and its former General Manager, Ismaila Iro, are asking the court to discharge and acquit the accused persons, saying the prosecution had failed to prove the charges against them.
The Counsel, Kanu Agabi (SAN) and Akin Olujimi (SAN) argued that since the prosecution had closed its case without proving the required elements of the charges, the accused persons should be discharged without having to enter their defence.
In their written submissions, the defence counsels to the accused also informed the court that an FCT high court has upheld the actions of El Rufai in revoking Plot 3352, the plot that NIPOST failed to develop within the terms of the grant and which the postal agency attempted to handover to a private company to build commercial and residential properties.
NIPOST and its private sector partners had filed a civil suit CV/324/07 (NIGERIA POSTAL SERVICES & 2 ORS V. MINISTER OF THE FEDERAL CAPITAL TERRITORY & 2 ORS) seeking to reverse the revocation, but the court upheld the decision of the then minister of the FCT.
Adopting his written address filed on July 30, and his reply on points of law dated September 20, Mr. Agabi, counsel for Mr. Iro, said there was no case for the third accused to answer. He argued that the prosecution’s case was that the two parcels of land involved in all the counts belong to PHCN and NIPOST, and that both organisations are alleged to derive their title from the Abuja master-plan.
Mr. Agabi reminded the court that evidence from the prosecution witnesses was that plots were neither enumerated nor allocated in the Master Plan. Thus the evidence led in court is inconsistent with the charge. Counsel for the third accused added that the unfair advantage allegedly conferred on allotees of the revoked plots had not been proven and cannot be proved.
Mr. Agabi explained that unfair advantage could only arise in relation to other persons who were shortchanged despite having qualified.
“There was no evidence whatsoever that any procedure for the allocation or revocation of title to land was breached by the accused persons,” the senior advocate said. He submitted that it was compliance with the procedure that mattered, not whether the beneficiaries were enemies or friends of the accused.
Mr. Agabi also reminded the court that prosecution witness one conceded that Mr. El-Rufai had powers as minister to revoke and allocate land.
Evidence, he said, also showed that the actions taken by the first accused in respect of revocation and allocation of the plots at issue were upheld by a subsequent administration, including the plot allocated to the daughter of prosecution witness one.
He concluded that there was no evidence to support the charge of conspiracy among the accused persons whom he urged the court to discharge and acquit.
Akin Olujimi (SAN), counsel for Mr El-Rufai aNd Mrs Jibrin, associated himself with the submissions of Mr. Agabi. Adopting his written address dated August 3, and filed August 5, and his reply on points of law, filed August 26, Mr. Olujimi argued that it was settled law that a no-case submission must be upheld where the elements of an offence had not been proven, or when the evidence adduced had been discredited or is manifestly unreliable.
“Central to the counts are that Plot 1201 and Plot 3352 were allocated originally in the Abuja Master Plan, but it is on record that the prosecution failed to tender the master-plan,” Mr. Olujimi was quoted as saying. “The prosecution sought refuge in the first accused’s statement to the EFCC, but there is nowhere he stated that the plots were allocated in the master-plan as alleged by the prosecution. Regarding Plot 1201, for instance, first accused said that it was granted to FCDA, not PHCN.”
He described the failure to tender the master-plan as fatal.
Mr. Olujimi added, “No evidence was adduced to show that the allotees were cronies or friends of the accused persons. The particulars introduced in the charges were not established, Olujimi said. He added that when asked under cross examination whether he investigated how many applications were pending for land allocation, PW2 said he did not find out. Thus he did not know if any qualified applicants were disfavoured to benefit the accused persons and or their relations.”
However, counsel to the EFCC, Adebayo Adelodun,(SAN), prayed the court to discountenance the application of no-case submission by the accused persons and urged it to rule that they answer the charges preferred against them.
“Running through the entirety of the written address as well as the adumbration, it is a misconception on the part of the defence to suggest we have to prove anything at this stage.
“This stage is whether a prima facie case has been made out and not to prove any ingredient of offences alleged. All that we are required to do at this stage is to link the accused persons with the charges, however tangible or remote,” Mr. Adelodun said.
He urged the court to note that the Commission had placed before it all documentary and oral evidences which include the accused person’s statements and that the case before it is a case of some people who occupy public office to use such to gratify and or benefit themselves, their relations and friends.
On the argument by the defence that prosecution did not produce the city’s masterplan, Mr. Adelodun contented that prosecution need not produce such because its existence and content was never in doubt and has been admitted by the statement of the first accused.
“Besides, the ownership of these plots is not restricted to the master plan as exhibits 4 and 15 which are the allocation letters to PHCN and NIPOST respectively, from FCDA are there for all to see.”
The prosecution counsel further challenged the defence’s submission that it did not produce those that benefitted from the alleged allocation by stating that by tendering certificate of occupancies in respect of all the persons named as beneficiaries especially the 2ndand 3rd accused persons, prosecution has given the court necessary proof to arrive at its decision.
The former minister and his co-accused were first arraigned on May 12, 2010 and later re-arraigned on an amended eight- count charge on Thursday April 7, 2011.
One of the counts read : “That you Mallam Nasir Ahmed El-Rufai (M) between 13th day of December, 2003 and 14th of December, 2007 or thereabout at the Ministry of Federal Capital Territory, Abuja in the course of and or in the performance of your official duties as the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory did use your said office and position to gratify and confer corrupt or unfair advantage on your relation, to wit, your wife Hadiza Ahmed El-Rufai by reallocating to her parts of the parcel of land known as plot No 1201, Asokoro District (A4) Abuja, originally allocated in the Federal Capital Territory Masterplan to power Holding Company of Nigeria Plc for the construction of transmitting/ injection sub-stations which you fully and/or intentionally revoked for that purpose, thereby committing an offence contrary to and punishable under section 19 of the Corrupt and Other Related Offences Act, 2000.
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