A former chairman of the Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), Abdulrasheed Maina, on Friday pleaded not guilty to the 12-count charge of a N100 billion pension fraud brought against him.
The presiding judge, Okon Abang of the Federal High Court in Abuja, said Mr Maina should be remanded in prison until October 30, when the trial would commence. The accused appeared in court at about 8: 52 a.m.
Mr Maina was arrested a month ago on charges of fraud.
During the court hearing on Friday, Mr Maina pleaded not guilty to the 12-count charge instituted against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) which was dated October 16 and filed October 17.
After taking his plea, the prosecution counsel, M S Abubakar, said the trial should begin.
On his part, Mr Maina’s lawyer, Ahmed Raji, told the court that they filed a bail application on October 22 and served on parties at 3:19 p.m that day.
Mr Raji, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, said his client had been in custody for over five weeks.
Adeola Adedipe, the lawyer who represented Maina’s company, which was arraigned as the second defendant, aligned himself with the submission of the first defendant’s counsel.
But the prosecution said the defendants’ counsel was “putting the cart before the horse.”
“The issue of bail can only arise when the matter is adjourned. My application before this court was not for an adjournment but to proceed with trial,” he said.
“The charge was served on the two defendants on October 22, 2019. They had two clear days before today, so they should have prepared for trial. The hearing notice served on all the parties stated that parties should come to court prepared with their witnesses.”
Mr Abubakar replied to the argument by Mr Raji regarding the service of the motion for bail. The prosecution counsel said Mr Raji’s application for bail was incompetent.
“I hereby acknowledge service as stated by him but as at the moment, we have not filed a counter-affidavit; not that we are conceding to the application but because it is incompetent and that whenever a competent application is filed, we would vehemently oppose it, ” Mr Abubakar said.
The judge then asked the prosecution to explain what he meant by saying the application was incompetent.
Mr Abubakar replied by citing a couple of cases to buttress his point.
He said based on his citation, the application filed by the first defendant was incompetent and thereby should be struck out.
“Regarding the submission of the second defendant, we submit that, he has not filed any application for bail, in fact, he could not have filed because the second defendant is not a natural person.
“We urge your lordship to discountenance the submission of the counsel and allow us to call our witness in the spirit of sec 1(1 ) of ACJA 2015, sec 19(2b&c) of EFCC establishment act 2004 and sec 20 of the money laundering prohibition act 2011 as amended in 2012,” he pleaded.
Mr Maina’s counsel continued with his argument. “Under the constitution, an accused person must be given adequate time and facilities to prepare for his defence and this includes consultation with his lawyer, sec 36 (6b).
“Here we have 4 volumes of the charge served on us, each of them running into 500 pages and I have only been allowed to see my client only once. They only allowed me seven minutes to see him, no privacy, nowhere to jot down anything, yet my brother says he wants to go on, he wants an unprecedented proceeding.
“I humbly plead with the court not to open the proceeding because I am not equipped at all because I have not had a trial conference.”
Justice Abang ruled that the first defendant be remanded in prison pending the commencement of trial.
“The first defendant is given four days from today to prepare his defence,” he said. “The authority in charge shall give the defendant time to meet with his counsel.”
The court adjourned to October 30 for the commencement of trial.
“The trial shall be day to day, no frivolous application for adjournment shall be entertained by the court.”
The court also adjourned to November 19 for the argument of the bail application filed before Mr Maina’s arraignment.
Mr Maina’s arraignment comes two days after a judge, Folashade Ogunbanjo, of the same court ordered a temporary forfeiture of 23 properties linked to the former PRTT Chairman.
Mrs Ogunbanjo gave the order after the EFCC filed a motion.
The EFCC in the suit had urged the court to order the temporary forfeiture of the properties linked to Mr Maina
The anti-graft agency motion was supported by a 30-paragraph affidavit which it brought pursuant to section 17 of anti-money laundering act.
Mr Maina is accused of being involved in pension fraud running into over N100 billion.
He had been dismissed in 2013 by the federal civil service commission for “absconding from duty” but he returned to the country in 2017 and was reinstated as a director in the interior ministry.
Following a national outrage, President Muhammadu Buhari ordered his dismissal and demanded a probe of his recall.
Mr Maina and his 20-year-old son, Faisal, were arrested by the operatives of the State Security Service (SSS) at the Pennsylvania Avenue Hotel, Utako, Abuja, on September 30.
They were therefore handed over to the EFCC for further investigations and prosecution on allegations of fraud and money laundering to the tune of N2.1billion.
The secret police said Faisal tried to resist arrest after he pulled out a pistol, but was, however, disarmed and arrested.
“Maina was arrested in the company of his 20-year-old son, Faisal Abdulrasheed Maina, who unsuccessfully tried to resist the arrest,”
“The lad even pulled a pistol against the security agents involved in the operation,” the DSS said.
On The Run
Mr Maina was in 2012 accused of leading a massive pension fraud scheme amounting to more than N100 billion. Ironically, he had been drafted by the then Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2010 to sanitise a corrupt pension system.
The Senate Joint Committee on Public Service and Establishment and State and Local Government Administration, which investigated the allegations, indicted Mr Maina and issued a warrant of arrest on him.
Mr Maina sued the Senate and the then Inspector-General of Police, Mohammed Abubakar, and thereafter went into hiding after being declared wanted by the police.
He was dismissed from the civil service for allegedly absconding from duty and attempting to evade arrest and charged to court.
He was on July 21, 2015, charged by the EFCC, alongside the former Head of Service, Stephen Oronsaye, and two others with fraud. While Mr Oronsaye and the two other accused were in court and pleaded not guilty to the charge, Mr Maina remained at large.
Nothing was heard of him until shortly after the emergence of President Buhari in 2015 when members of his defunct Presidential Task Team on Pension Reforms offered to work with the then-incoming administration.
The team, which addressed a press conference in Abuja, said its work would be easier under Mr Buhari, known for his anti-corruption stand.
PREMIUM TIMES found in October 2017 that the new government secretly reinstated and promoted Mr Maina.
Amid a nationwide outrage ignited by the disclosure, President Buhari ordered the immediate sack of Mr Maina.
It later became clear Mr Maina was reinstated with the knowledge of the then Minister of Interior, Abdulrahman Dambazau, and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami. The then Head of Service, Winifred Oyo-Ita, was aware but said the decision was taken without her approval.
Mrs Oyo-Ita in a leaked memo to the Chief of Staff to the President, Abba Kyari, said she warned Mr Buhari against the reinstatement.
Mr Maina himself said his reinstatement was ordered by President Buhari.