The trial of 23 officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission, accused of receiving N360m bribe from Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers State in connection with the December 10, 2016 rerun elections in the state, will commence this week, The PUNCH has learnt.
The prosecution has also lined up 14 policemen, whom it refers to as potential witnesses against the INEC officials.
Our correspondent confirmed on Sunday that the defendants would be arraigned before Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday.
“The court served the hearing notice on the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions of the Federation sometime last week. The notice indicated that the arraignment would take place on Tuesday, March 14,” a source familiar with the case said.
Responding to a question on whether the defendants had been served with the charges, the source said, “Immediately the charges were filed last week, more than enough copies that would go round the 23 defendants were sent to the police.
“Recall that the police earlier released the defendants. But the investigative team of the police re-invited the defendants after receiving copies of the charges from the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
“So, I am sure if the defendants honoured the police invitation, they would have been served with the charges.”
According to the source, the charges were accompanied by a list of “14 potential witnesses”.
The source stated that the list was subject to a further review in the course of the trial.
All the 14 witnesses listed are all said to be policemen.
The source added, “In fact, all the witnesses listed so far are policemen. So, the prosecution may later amend its proof of evidence by filing additional list of witnesses to bring in others including INEC officials as prosecution witnesses.
“It is always within the rights of the prosecution to reduce or add to its number of its proposed witnesses.”
The PUNCH had exclusively reported that the Office of the Attorney General of the Federation had, on March 7, filed seven counts comprising money laundering and economic crimes-related offences against the accused persons.
The prosecution, in the suit with number FHC/ABJ/CR/42/2017, alleged that the sum of N360m, the defendants allegedly received from Wike, represented proceeds of the governor’s criminal conduct as well as economic and financial crimes.
The 23 INEC officials, allegedly between December 7 and 10, 2016, “converted, concealed, were in possession” and “used” the sum of N360m bribe in violations of various provisions of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011 and Economic and Financial Crimes (Establishment, etc) Act, 2004.
The 23 INEC officials are said to include three state coordinators of the electoral body.
The accused persons named in the charges are Shittu Lamido (Shettima), Henry Owokure, Peter Ewatade, Mrs. Mary Tunkoyo Pennap, Gwatana Jibril, Ivase Stephen and Abdullahi Ogabo.
Also named as part of the defendants are Gayus Hassan, Hussaina Yahaya, James Ogwuche, Karimu Aminu and Adedokun Najeem Ayotunde.
The defendants also include Balogun Funmilayo and Adams Kadiri, Akinwande Adesoji, Lukeman Olabimpe and Tiamiyu R. Arowolo.
The rest are Akinwoye Amodu, Nwoha Yusuf, Patrick Anuke, Iro Abali, Nwosu Oluchi and Arukwe Chinelo.
In count 1, the defendants “all electoral officers and staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission between December 7 to 10, 2016 at Port Harcourt, Rivers State, did conspire to convert the sum of N360,000,000 directly from bribery and corruption in connection with the Rivers State re-run election which took place on December 10, 2016.”
In count 2, prosecution alleged that the accused persons, “did convert the sum of N360,000,000, being money derived directly from bribery and corruption in connection with the Rivers State rerun election, which took place on December 10, 2016, with the aim of concealing the illicit origin of the money.”
InIn count 3, it was alleged that the accused persons “did collaborate to conceal the sum of N360,000,000, being money derived directly from bribery and corruption, in connection with the Rivers State rerun election, which took place on December 10, 2016.”
In count 4, it was alleged that the defendants “all electoral officers and staff of the Independent National Electoral Commission between December 7 and 10, 2016, at Port Harcourt, Rivers State, did commit an offence to wit: possession of the sum of N360,000,000, being money you received from Governor Ezenwo Nyesom Wike of Rivers State, knowing that the said money represented proceeds of bribery and corruption in connection with the Rivers State rerun election, which took place on December 10, 2016.”