The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Tuesday arraigned the former boss of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Patrick Akpobolokemi, and eight others over alleged N35 billion fraud.
The arraignment had been continuously stalled due to the inability of the EFCC to arrest Government Ekpemupolo (also known as Tompolo).
At the last court sitting, last month, Festus Keyamo, counsel to the EFCC, requested an adjournment to enable him separate the charges, leaving out Mr. Ekpemupolo who would face a separate charge when arrested.
In the new charge, Mr. Akpobolokemi, Global West Vessel Ltd, Odimiri Electrical Ltd, Kime Engozu, Boloboere Property and Estate Ltd, Rex Elem, Destre Consult Ltd, Gregory Mbonu, and Captain Warredi Enisuoh are accused of conspiracy to commit the fraud between 2012 and 2015.
All the defendants pleaded not guilty.
The defendants’ lawyers prayed the court to grant their clients bail “in the most liberal terms”.
Mr. Keyamo did not oppose the bail applications.
“Because the accused persons are already on bail in another charge before this court, I pray my Lord to grant them bail in a condition good enough to enable them attend this trial,” Mr. Keyamo said.
Justice Ibrahim Buba granted bail to all the defendants, except Mr. Enisuoh, in the sum N50 million with “one reliable surety in like sum”.
Mr. Enisuoh, who was charged on two out of the 40 counts (totalling N8 million), received a N10 million bail with one surety.
“The defendants who are already on bail are to perfect their bail conditions within 24 hours or be remanded in prison,” said Mr. Buba. “Those appearing before me for the first time should perfect their bail conditions today or be remanded in prison.”
The judge adjourned the case till May 23, 24, 25, and 26 for trial.
The judge also adjourned till April 18, for arraignment, another 22-count charge of fraud involving Messrs Ekpemupolo and Akpobolokemi and about 11 others.
Mr. Akpobolokemi is also facing four other fraud charges before different judges.
Speaking to journalists outside the courtroom, Mr. Keyamo said Mr. Ekpemupolo would be charged separately “when we get him”.
“It is the duty of the security forces and they are still making efforts to get him,” he said. “He’s on the run and he cannot continue to be on the run for ever. We will get him.”
A federal high court had, on January 14, issued a warrant for the arrest of Mr. Ekpemupolo after he shunned an invitation to appear before the EFCC last December.
On February 8, Judge Buba renewed the arrest warrant, paving the way for the EFCC to declare Mr. Ekpemupolo wanted.
Two weeks later, Mr. Ekpemupolo, through his lawyer, Ebun Adegboruwa, headed to the Court of Appeal to challenge the warrant for his arrest, insisting that it was not competently placed before the court.
The former militant leader also asked the appellate court to transfer the charges against him to a different judge.
On March 11, Mr. Ekpemupolo filed his Appellant’s Brief of Argument before the Court of Appeal “in further demonstration of his commitment to the rule of law and due process,” Mr. Adegboruwa in a press statement on March 15th.
“Tompolo is thus asking the Court of Appeal to set aside the warrant for his arrest and vacate all subsequent proceedings emanating from the flawed process of the criminal charge.”