A former member of the House of Representatives, Chidi Duru, was arraigned Monday before a chief magistrate court at Tinubu, Lagos, on a four-count charge of conspiracy and stealing.
Mr. Duru, who represented Ahiazu-Ezinihitte Mbaise Federal Constituency between 1999 and 2003, was arraigned alongside a lawyer, Smart Iheazor.
According to the police prosecutor, both men on January 11, 2017, allegedly invaded the head office of the First Guarantee Pension Limited (FGPL), in the company of others still at large, with the intent to forcefully take over the management and assets of the Pension Fund Administrator.
Messrs Duru and Iheazor, who are lawyers with 28 and 30 post-Bar experience respectively, were also accused of carting away valuables from the company’s premises at 65, Kudirat Abiola Way, Oregun, Ikeja Lagos.
The charge sheet marked No. 12/02/2017read: “That you, Nze Chidi Duru ‘M’, Smart Iheazor, ‘M’ and others now at large, on the 11th day of January 2017, at No. 65 Kudirat Abiola Way, Oregun, Ikeja, Lagos, in the Lagos Magistrate District, did conspire among yourselves to commit felony to wit stealing and thereby committed an offence punishable under section 409 of the Criminal Laws of Lagos State of Nigeria, 2011.
“That you, Nze Chidi Duru ‘M’, Smart Iheazor ‘M’ and others now at large, on the same date, and place in the aforementioned Magistrate District, did steal (3) three office files, (1) one HP Laptop valued at the sum of 250,000 (Two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira) property of First Guarantee Pension Limited (FGPL) and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 285 of Criminal Laws of Lagos State, 2011.
“That you, Nze Chidi Duru ‘M’, Smart Iheazor ‘M’ and others now at large, on the same date, and place in the aforementioned Magistrate District, did conduct yourselves in a manner likely to cause breach of the peace by wilfully and unlawfully invading First Guarantee Pension Limited (FGPL) offices with an intent to forcefully takeover the management and assets of the company and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 111(d) of the Criminal Laws of Lagos State, 2011.
“That you Nze Chidi Duru ‘M’ and Smart Iheazor ‘M’ on the same time, date, and place in the aforementioned Magistrate District, with intent to defraud, did introduce yourselves as Vice Chairman/Secretary, respectively, of First Guarantee pension Limited (FGPL) and acted same in an attempt to takeover the management and assets of the company and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 378(1) of the Criminal Law of Lagos state, 2011”.
Both defendants pleaded not guilty to the offences.
Mr. Duru reportedly collapsed in police custody on Friday night.
Before his arraignment on Monday, his lawyer, Emeka Etiaba, told the court that his client was still ill having just been discharged from the hospital a few hours before attending the court proceedings.
The police prosecutor, however, objected to Mr. Etiaba’s claim, noting that the doctor at the police hospital, where Mr. Duru was
hospitalised, had certified him fit.
After listening to both counsels, Ade Adefulire, the magistrate, ordered the defendants to take their pleas.
Afterwards, Mr. Etiaba urged the court to grant the accused bail on own recognisance, noting that both were senior lawyers, and that Mr. Duru was a former member of the House of Representatives.
The defence lawyer also said their offences were bailable ones.
The prosecutor, however, objected to the bail on own recognisance, insisting that they should be given sureties as they reside in Abuja, and not Lagos.
The magistrate granted the accused bail in the sum of N500,000 each with one surety each in like sum.
The matter was adjourned till March 9, 2017 for trial.
Mr. Duru, one of the key founders of FGPL, has been having a running battles with fellow shareholders, a development that led the pension commission to appoint an interim management for the firm.
The pension commission had sidelined the former lawmaker from the company after his colleagues accused him of defrauding the company, an allegation the police and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) investigated. The businessman strongly rejected the allegations.
A few months ago, the EFCC dropped charges against Mr. Duru, in what the former lawmaker interpreted as clearance to return to his post as vice chairman of FGPL.
He had told PREMIUM TIMES that he was returning to work since the anti-graft commission had withdrawn charges against him.