A Niger State High Court, on Monday, fixed a pre-trial date in the money laundering case involving a former governor of Niger State, Babangida Aliyu.
Mr Aliyu is facing prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, alongside his then-chief of staff, Umar Nasko and the chairman, Niger State Chapter of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Tanko Beji, on an amended seven-count charge, bordering on money laundering and criminal breach of trust to the tune of N2 billion.
The offences were allegedly committed while he was the governor between 2007 and 2015.
Operatives of the EFCC on April 6, 2017, arrested Mr Aliyu over the alleged fraud.
He was arrested following an order by a judge, Aminu Aliyu, for failing to appear in court for a second time.
The court on July 11, 2018, also ordered the interim forfeiture of some of his assets.
These comprised two houses in Minna, a farmland with 12 chalets and four buildings at Birgi Minna, and N57 million.
In a statement signed by the EFCC spokesperson, Wilson Uwujaren, the agency said the pre-trial date was fixed following the striking out of the case by the court presided over by Mikail Abdullahi in favour of the defendants on February 10.
“It will be recalled that the case was relisted for hearing on September 14, 2020, and the defendants re-arraigned on the same date, with the matter adjourned till Monday September 21, 2020, for commencement of trial.
“The relisting was sought by EFCC following the striking out of the case by the court in favour of the defendants on February 10, 2020.”
At the resumed hearing today, prosecution counsel, Faruk Abdullahi, informed the court that the prosecution was ready for trial as approved by the court on the arraignment date of September 14.
This was, however, opposed by the third defendant, Mamman Osman, on the ground that Section 14 of the EFCC Establishment Act, provides for a pre-trial protocol as a pre-condition for the hearing of the commission’s cases. He said the failure to submit pre-trial evidence made the trial unripe for hearing.
The defence lawyer further argued that in pre-hearing, “the defence would need to identify the prosecution witnesses and reach out to its own witnesses and identify the nature of their testimonies and prepare questions for cross-examination”.
“It is my final submission that this matter is not ripe for hearing,” Mr Osman said.
Mr Abdullahi, expressed dismay that the defence counsel challenged the trial commencement, reminding the court that the case was adjourned for trial, today, September 21, 2020, following the arraignment of the defendants on September 14, 2020.
He said the court with the consent of all the counsel on that date urged the prosecution to open its case.
Mr Abdullahi, therefore, urged the court to go ahead with the hearing of the case as agreed by all the counsels on September 14.
The counsel added that “The justice of the case demands that we proceed with the trial, the spirit of the trial protocol has been approved by the court, and thee court set the case down for trial.”
Justice Abdullahi, then, adjourned the matter till October 14, 2020, for pre-trial.