A former director for legal services at Nigeria’s petroleum ministry was on Friday remanded in Suleja Prison after pleading not guilty to an eight-count charge of alleged financial impropriety in the controversial contract between Nigeria and the Irish firm, Process and Industrial Development Company (P&ID).
The former director, Grace Taiga, is accused by the federal government of participating in the award of the contract.
The court also included a former petroleum minister, Rilwan Lukman, who is now late, in the charge. Other deceased defendants named in the charge are the P&ID’s founder, Micheal Quinn, and the managing director of Addex Petroleum in 2010, Noel Hitchcock.
They were listed as people who also violated the law with respect to the controversial contract but they were not named defendants.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission described the processes of awarding the contract as “unlawful and an abuse of constitutional provision”.
The commission which is prosecuting the case accused Mrs Taiga and Mr Lukman of violating the law and awarding the contract without the approval of the Federal Executive Council or recourse to the provisions of the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission Act.
Mrs Taiga was also accused of collecting over $20,000 from the Irish firm “for her cooperation” in ensuring that the contract was signed.
After pleading not guilty to the charge, Justice Olukayode Adeniyi ordered Mrs Taiga to be remanded pending the determination of a bail application scheduled for September 25.
The remanded Mrs Taiga despite pleas by her lawyer, Ola Olanikpekun, that she was suffering from multiple ailments and had fainted while in the custody of the EFCC where she was kept since her arrest by the Commission on September 3.
The commission also named the fifth defendant as Brendan Cahill whom the prosecution said was at large according to the charge sheet.
According to the EFCC charge, the defendants were accused of proceeding with the signing of the contract under the laws of the British Virgin Island without any cash backing or a statutory approval of the federal executive council.
Mrs Taiga was particularly accused of corruptly receiving various sums of $1, 000, $10, 000 and another $10, 000 in September 2015, December, 2017 and June 2018 respectively as gratification for “the favour she already showed” to the process.
The EFCC lawyer, Bala Sanga, had asked the court to remove the name of the company, P&ID, from the charge after noting that the government secured a conviction against the company on Thursday and would not consider the need to proceed with the trial of the company.
After Mrs Taiga made her plea, Mr Sanga also asked the court to allow their application for the detention of the director at a state prison.
The defence counsel, Mr Olanikpekun, objected to the request and added that he felt surprised by the request because the prosecution had promised his client during a meeting with another defense lawyer that they would consider the health conditions of Mrs Taiga.
Mr Olanikpekun, a senior lawyer, also criticised Mr Sanga’s request on the basis of the fact that the application was dated Friday, September 20.
The judge, Olukayode Adeniyi, however, ruled that the defendant had an obligation to bring a formal application for bail in the given circumstance and added that Mrs Taiga had an option to inform the court that she was not ready to take her plea.