A former governor of Jigawa State, Saminu Turaki, has finally shown up for his corruption trial for the first time in years of his repeated absence from court.
PREMIUM TIMES confirmed that Mr Turaki appeared at the Dutse Division of the Federal High Court in Jigawa State, on December 7, to face the 32-count corruption charge pending against him and his co-defendants since over 14 years ago.
The December 7 proceedings took place before a judge who was newly assigned the case, Hassan Dikko. The re-assignment of the case to Mr Dikko followed the recent retirement of the former judge, S. Yahuza, from the Federal High Court’s bench.
Mr Yahuza’s retirement necessitated Mr Turaki’s trial, which started in 2007, to start afresh with fresh plea taken by the defendants.
At his re-arraignment on December 7, the former governor pleaded not guilty to all 32 counts.
The judge then adjourned the matter until February 24 and 25, 2022 for trial.
Trial stalled for 14 years
With the recent re-arraignment of Mr Turaki and his co-defendants signalling a fresh start of the case, it means the trial has practically made no progress since it was filed 14 years ago.
Mr Turaki, who served two terms as governor of Jigawa from 1999 to 2007, was first arraigned by the EFCC before Binta Nyako of the Federal High Court in Abuja on July 13, 2007, on a 32-count charge of misappropriating N36 billion while in office.
Following his arraignment, he was granted bail in the sum of N100 million.
In 2011, the case was transferred to the Federal High Court, Dutse after Mr Turaki successfully challenged the territorial jurisdiction of the Federal High Court in Abuja to hear the case.
He was subsequently re-arraigned on the same 32-count charge at the Dutse Division of the Federal High Court.
Due to the repeated absence of Mr Turaki from the court, the case was stalled for years, until he ran out of luck when EFCC arrested him on July 4, 2017, at an event in Abuja.
While the EFCC was trying to get a date for his trial before the court in Dutse, the annual vacation of Federal High Court judges started. EFCC was then confronted with the risk of holding the former governor in custody beyond the constitutionally permissible period.
Since he was arrested in Abuja, Mr Turaki quickly filed a rights enforcement suit before the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) High Court, in Abuja, seeking an order of the court to release him from the anti-graft agency’s custody.
The suit was opposed by the EFCC arguing that Mr Turaki would again jump bail, based on his antecedent of jumping bail granted him by the Federal High Court in Dutse in 2011, and evading the arrest warrant subsequently issued by the same court.
Despite EFCC’s objection, Yusuf Halilu of the FCT High Court granted bail to the ex-governor on conditions that he should submit his travelling documents to the registry of the court, produce “two reasonable sureties” residing in Abuja, and routinely sign a register to be opened at the EFCC’s office every two weeks.
Reluctant to release Mr Turaki as ordered by the court, EFCC sought and got the trial moved from Dutse Division of the Federal High Court to the Abuja division, which was the only division a judge was appointed to entertain all urgent cases from the entire northern region.
Mr Turaki pleaded not guilty to the 32 counts again and was again granted bail by the judge, Nnamdi Dimgba. On July 18, 2017, the judge granted him bail in the sum of N500million with two sureties in the sum of N250million each.
Among other bail conditions, the judge directed Mr Turaki to report to the EFCC’s headquarters on the first working day of every month.
The case was then transferred to the Dutse Division after Mr Turaki met the bail conditions, and Mr Dimgba signed the order for his release from custody.
Since then, the case has not made any progress due to Mr Turaki’s repeated absence from court.
Highlights of evading arrest
In the many years of Mr Turaki evading trial, he attended some public events – social and political – but still managed to evade arrests by the EFCC.
This was despite EFCC being armed with a warrant issued in May 2013 by the Federal High Court in Dutse for Mr Turaki’s arrest.
In 2014, Mr Turaki, who had been elected governor on the platform of the then opposition All People’s Party (APP), but defected to the ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) after his tenure, was seen to be part of the campaign trails of the incumbent Jigawa State governor, Muhammad Badaru, who was then the governorship candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC) ahead of the 2015 governorship election.
On May 19, 2016, operatives of the EFCC stormed Mr Turaki’s house at 16 Dennis Osadebey Street, Asokoro, Abuja, but could not lay their hands on him.
Mr Turaki would, in subsequent months, be seen as one of the guests at the December 2016 wedding of Zahra, a daughter of President Muhammadu Buhari, at Daura, Katsina State.
He had also been seen at the Bola Tinubu Colloquium, a well-attended public event in Lagos.
In July 2017, Mr Turaki attended a book launch on the late Zakariya Maimalari, entitled, ‘The First Regular Combatant’, which was held at the International Conference Centre, Abuja.
It was at the event Mr Turaki was arrested by the EFCC.
The live airing of the book launch on the TV was believed to have alerted the anti-graft agency to Mr Turaki’s presence at the event attended by some political leaders, leading to his eventual arrest.
He was subsequently granted bail on July 18, 2017, about two weeks after his arrest on July 4.
The trial has not made any progress since then until the re-arraignment on December 7, 2021, which was necessitated by the retirement of the trial judge, and the subsequent reassignment of the case to another judge.
Recently, on December 25, he was in Calabar, Cross River State, alongside the Jigawa State governor, Mr Badaru, and his Kebbi State counterpart, Atiku Bagudu, to celebrate Christmas with their Governor Ben Ayade of Cross River State.
In the 32 counts filed by the EFCC, Mr Turaki and his three co-defendants were accused of collaborating “in concealing the genuine nature” of a total sum of about N37billion allegedly “derived from an illegal act.”
The offences were said to be contrary to and punishable under section 14(1)(b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004.
The three companies named as Mr Turaki’s co-defendant in the case marked, FHC/ABJ/CR/86/2007, are INC Natural Resources Ltd., Arkel Construction Nigeria Ltd., and Wildcat Construction Ltd.
Isa Gafai of the Legal and Prosecution Unit of the EFCC, who signed the charges, declared in the various counts that one Ahmed Mohammed, said to be culpable in the alleged crimes, was “at large”.
Filed along with the charges was a list of 16 proposed prosecution witnesses, among whom was a former acting chair EFCC, Ibrahim Magu.
Number 13 on the list, Mr Magu is believed to have played a crucial role in the investigations of the case.
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