An Abuja High Court judge, Ishaq Bello, has granted the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) leave to assemble materials and witnesses in the suit against Vincent Ogbulafor, a former National Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
Mr. Ogbulafor, Jude Nwokolo, Henry Ikoh and Emeka Emmanuel are being prosecuted by the ICPC on a 16-count criminal charge of alleged involvement in N170 million fraud.
The ICPC alleged that Mr. Ogbulafor, while in office as the Minister of State for Special Duties in 2001, connived with the others to float three fictitious companies, with which they perpetrated the fraud.
They were alleged to have used Henrichiko Nig. Limitedd, DHL Consultants and Chekwas Industries, to siphon N82.6 million, N11.5 million and N6.2 million, respectively, in 2001.
Mr. Ogbulafor was specifically alleged to have used his position as the head of the National Economic Intelligence Committee (NEIC), set up to verify debts owed local contractors, to okay several forged documents.
He was alleged to have relied on the forged documents to certify that the three fake companies successfully executed jobs worth N104 million.
He was also alleged to have collected kickbacks of N2 million and N28
million from Mr. Ebiulah and one Chris Nwoke respectively.
It would be recalled that Justice Bello, on January 4, 2011, adjourned further hearing in the criminal case against Mr. Ogbulafor indefinitely.
The adjournment followed an application filed by the ICPC’s counsel, Adegboyega Awomolo, asking for a stay of proceedings in the case pending the determination of a motion he filed at the Court of Appeal.
The ICPC was challenging Bello’s ruling which granted Mr. Ogbulafor’s application for severance of trial delivered on December 14, 2010.
16 months after, at the resumed hearing of the case, Mr. Bello granted the permission to the ICPC to appear on Wednesday, July 11 and Thursday, July 12 for continuation of the trial.
Earlier,Mr. Awomolo told the court that following the dismissal of the case filed by the ICPC at the Court of Appeal challenging the severance of Mr. Ogbulafor to stand trial alone, the commission was ready to go on.
“Following the dismissal of our appeal, the Court of Appeal affirmed the decision of My Lord, Justice Bello and ordered that the trial should continue”.
“The prosecution needs a long adjournment to September to prepare our materials and witnesses to proceed to trial”.
But in his submission, counsel to Mr. Ogbulafor, John Egwuonwu, opposed the application for adjournment to September.
Mr. Egwuonwu urged the court to take judicial notice of the fact that the Chief Justice of Nigeria had ordered an accelerated hearing into all criminal cases.
He told the court to also take notice of the fact that the reason the case has dragged this long, was because the prosecution appealed the ruling of the court to severe the trial.
“It was not my client who went to court to challenge your ruling to severe the case. It was the prosecution itself. My client is eager for the case to be concluded. We have nothing to hide”.
Mr. Egwuonwu urged the court to consider a short date to resume hearing in the case.
The Judge, Mr. Bello, in his ruling, agreed with the submissions of Mr. Ogbulafor’s lawyer.
He then fixed July 11 and 12 for continuation of the trial.