EFCC re-arraigns ex-gov, Murtala Nyako son over alleged N29bn fraud

The EFCC re-arraigned ex-Governor Murtala Nyako and his son, Abdulaziz, in the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court on Thursday for alleged N29 billion fraud.

They were re-arrested on 37 counts of money laundering, allegedly committed while Mr Nyako was governor of Adamawa.

Zulkifik Abba and Abubakar Aliyu are also among those accused.

The firms allegedly used in laundering the funds—Blue Opal Limited, Sebore Farms & Extension Limited, Pagoda Fortunes Limited, Tower Assets Management Limited, and Crust Energy Limited—were also joined as the fifth to the ninth defendants, respectively.

The re-arraignment followed the elevation of the former trial judge, Justice Okon Abang, to the Court of Appeal.

When the matter was called, counsel to the prosecuting agency, Oluwaleke Atolagbe, told the court that the matter was starting de novo (afresh) because the first two judges handling it were no longer available to handle it.

Mr Atolagbe said, “My Lord, Justice Evoh Chukwu first handled the matter, and we called eight witnesses before he died. It was then transferred to Justice Okon Abang, and we called 21 witnesses and closed our case.

“The defendants, however, all appealed the case saying they had no case to answer but the Court of Appeal dismissed their appeals and asked them to return to the Federal High Court and open their defence.

“Unfortunately, Justice Abang was elevated to the Court of Appeal, and that is why we are before you today, my lord.”

The trial judge, Justice Peter Lifu, directed that the charge be read to the defendants so that they could enter their plea.

They all retained their not-guilty plea.

Counsel to Mr Nyako, his son, and their companies, Michael Aondoakaa, prayed the court to allow his clients to continue to attend the trial on bail in the same terms and conditions earlier imposed by the court when they first took their plea.

“My Lord, we have enjoyed bail from this court since July 10, 2015. Since we perfected the bail, we have never defaulted even for once. We pray the court to allow us to continue enjoying that bail, and for our part, we promise not to default even now,” Mr Aondoakaa pleaded.

The judge sought to know if the sureties were still available.

“I hope the sureties have not ‘japa’ but are still in Nigeria, still alive and ready to continue to stand as sureties,” he stated.

Following counsel’s confirmation that the sureties were still available and since the prosecution did not object, the judge allowed them to continue on the same bail conditions.

The prosecutor also informed the court that there had been moves for a plea bargain before Mr Abang was elevated. He said the prosecution was ready to hear them out if the defendants were still willing to explore that option.

Mr Aondoakaa, however, clarified that it was not exactly a plea bargain but more of “settling the matter amicably,” particularly considering the former governor’s age.

“Plea bargain creates the impression of guilt. The admiral is 81 years old, he is the age mate of the likes of retired Gen. Badamosi Babangida and he cannot continue to be made to face this again,” Mr Aondoakaa told the court.

He said the court would be duly informed if progress was made with the attempt at amicable settlement.

The judge subsequently fixed March 10 and 13 for trial to begin afresh.

The EFCC is prosecuting Mr Nyako, his son, and other co-defendants for alleged money laundering of N29 billion.

The EFCC alleged that the defendants diverted funds from the Adamawa treasury between January 2011 and December 2014.

They allegedly used companies as conduit pipes to illegally divert the funds running into billions, which they converted into private accounts and moved to Abuja, where they used it to build private estates.

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