The High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), in Jabi, Abuja, on Tuesday, adjourned the N738 million pension fraud trial of a former Chairman of the defunct Pension Reform Task Team (PRTT), Abdulrasheed Maina.
This was due to the failure of the officials of the Nigerian Correctional Service in Abuja, where he is currently serving a jail term, to produce him for the trial.
The Federal High Court in Abuja had, in November last year, jailed Mr Maina for eight years for money laundering involving the diversion of N2 billion in pension funds.
The trial judge, Okon Abang, had convicted Mr Maina on all the 12 counts of money laundering filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The trial at the Federal High Court in Abuja commenced just about a month before the ongoing trial at the FCT High Court started in November 2019.
In the case pending at the FCT High Court, the EFCC charged him and his co-defendant, one Ann Igwe Olachi, with nine counts of stealing various sums of money totalling N738million belonging to the federal government.
The prosecution alleged that the defendants stole the funds under the guise of payments for the contract for biometric enrollment of pensioners”, and payments for allowances, among others.
Some of the offences were said to be punishable under Section 317 of the Penal Code Act, Cap 532, vol. 4, Laws of the Federal Capital Territory of Nigeria, 2007.
Mr Maina was absent from Tuesday’s proceedings and the officials of the correctional service who usually produced him in court for the case were also absent.
The trial judge, Abubakar Idris, referred to a letter of a hospital in Gwagwalada, Abuja, but did not read out the content of the document to provide clarity about Mr Maina’s whereabouts.
The prosecuting lawyer, Attah Ocholi, and the defence lawyers, Anayo Adibe, representing Mr Maina, and K.O. Balogun, representing the second defendant, said they were unaware of the letter.
Mr Adibe said Mr Maina’s presence in court was critical for the proceedings to go on.
In his remarks, Mr Kutigi requested the prosecution to communicate with the correctional service department over Mr Maina’s whereabouts.
As a result, the judge adjourned the matter until April 27.
Tales of a fugitive
Mr Maina, notorious for jumping bail to evade trial, is accused of perpetrating monumental fraud in the pension scheme of the federal civil service.
He initially fled Nigeria in 2013 after the government of former President Jonathan launched an investigation into the pension fraud traced to him as the head of the pension reform task force team. He ironically took the position in 2010 to sanitise the pension scheme in the federal civil service.
He reportedly sneaked back to the county in 2017 and retreated again after PREMIUM TIMES exposed the move by the government to quietly reinstate him to the civil service.
He was later arrested on September 30, 2019, alongside his son, Faisal, in Abuja, by the State Security Service (SSS).
Charged at the Federal High Court in Abuja with 12 counts of money laundering involving diversion of pension funds, Mr Maina pleaded not guilty and was subsequently granted bail by the trial judge, Okon Abang.
His son, Faisal, was similarly charged before the same judge on charges involving diversion of pension funds.
Mr Maina jumped bail in 2020 causing the judge to detain his surety, Ali Ndume, a serving senator, for a few days.
He would later be rearrested in Niger Republic and brought back to continue facing his trial in December 2020.
The judge found him guilty of the alleged offences and jailed him eight years in November last year.
His son, Faisal, who also jumped bail in the course of his trial, was equally convicted and sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment in absentia in October last year.
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