Former Federal Capital Territory Minister, Nasir El Rufai, and his legal team returned to the Abuja High Court for a continuation of the long-running case between him and the government.
Mr. El Rufai’s lawyers are expected to continue their cross-examination of the prosecution’s first witness. That had been adjourned to February 15 to enable the defence obtain certified copies of certain documents from the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory. The case was further adjourned to today, with Justice Sadiq Umar reminding all parties of his desire to pursue a speedy conclusion.
The Federal Government finally opened its case against Mr. El Rufai on December 14 2011, when it called its first witness.
Mohammed Sani Alhassan, former Executive Secretary, FCDA, told an Abuja High Court that the power to allocate and revoke land in the FCT is vested in the Minister.
The Umaru Yar’Adua government had charged Mr. El Rufai in 2009 for allegedly revoking plots of land from two government agencies and allocating them to his wives and friends.
Mr. Alhassan’s evidence appears to undermine that charge.
The PHCN is one of the agencies that had its allocation revoked.
Mr. Alhassan, under cross examination, conceded that he has not seen any official document vesting the PHCN with any title to Plot 1201, Asokoro. He admitted conveying the allocation to the PHCN via a letter in July 2003 which did not have a date. He attributed the non-inclusion of a specific day on the letter to oversight, but the court was reminded that the period in questions was one of transition before the resumption of a new minister as the previous minister left office on 29 May 2003, and that Mr. El Rufai only resumed on July 16, 2003.
Mr. Alhassan admitted that he did not have the power to allocate land, but he was unable to show any approval by any minister allocating the plot to PHCN.
The FCDA official told the court that he received a letter from Julius Berger alerting him to a change in the use of Plot 1201, Asokoro, in January 2007 which he forwarded to the then Minister (El Rufai).
Asked if it was the first time that an FCT administration had changed the use of a plot of land, and if anybody had ever faced trial for that, he said no.
Cross examined by Kanu Agabi, counsel to the third accused, on the terms of allocation of land, Mr. Alhassan agreed that all titles have to be registered and that plots allocated to public agencies must not only be registered in compliance with the Land Registration Act, but cannot be left unused indefinitely.
He also confirmed that his daughter was allocated a plot within the now contentious Plot 1201, Asokoro. He said she followed the procedures for applying for land, and that these procedures apply to all Nigerians who are entitled to land in Abuja, including the accused persons and their relations.
Akin Olujimi, SAN, counsel to El Rufai, also cross examined Mr. Alhassan who agreed that the criteria approved by the Federal Executive Council for the allocation of land in Abuja included among other criteria, 20 per cent discretion for the Minister of the FCT.
Mr. Olujimi informed the court that the current Minister of the FCT had not complied with the subpoena to produce certified copies of some official documents. The case was adjourned to February 15, 2012 for the FCT Minister to comply and produce certified true copies of some memos written to Mr. El Rufai by Mr. Alhassan which the defence intends to tender as exhibits.
The case was filed while El Rufai, who has said it is an attempt to persecute him, was in exile. When he returned to the country on May 1, 2010, he was arraigned at the Federal High Court, Abuja, but that court quashed the charges, agreeing with the former minister’s argument that he was arraigned in a wrong court under a wrong law.
The government later refiled the case at the Abuja High Court.