EFCC files fraud charges against Nigerian senator

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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) will February 22 arraign a former Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah, at the Federal High Court, Abuja, for alleged financial impropriety.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Ms Oduah was scheduled to be arraigned on Tuesday, but the judge, Inyang Ekwo, had to adjourn the case because the ex-minister was absent and had not been served with the relevant court documents.

Ms Oduah was in February 2014 removed as the aviation minister by then President Goodluck Jonathan following scandals she was involved in.

The former minister who later got involved in the campaigns for Mr Jonathan’s failed 2015 re-election bid, is currently the senator representing Abia North in the National Assembly.

Stella Oduah

Charged

The EFCC recently charged her alongside eight others with fraud offences in the case marked, FHC/ABJ/CR/316/20.

According to NAN, the anti-corruption agency alleged that Mrs Oduah misappropriated public funds while serving as a minister.

EFCC’s prosecuting counsel, Hassan Liman, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, in trying to defend Ms Oduah’s absence from Tuesday’s proceedings, confirmed to the court that the senator had not been served with the court processes.

The lawyer, therefore, urged the judge to adjourn the case to enable the anti-graft agency to serve the legislator.

“My lord, the matter has been set out today (Tuesday) for arraignment but I have been informed by the commission that the first defendant (Oduah) is yet to be served.

“In view of that my lord, may I humbly apply for a very short date,” he said.

Responding, the judge, Mr Ekwo, said it was the duty of the prosecution to produce defendants in court.

He then adjourned the matter till February 22 for defendants to take their plea.

Scandals

Ms Oduah was sacked by then President Jonathan on February 12, 2014, after she was stained by scandals, one of which was about the purchase of two bullet-proof cars by an agency under her supervision, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) for N255 million.

The purchase was in violation of Nigeria’s public procurement and appropriation laws.

The House of Representatives Committee on Aviation, which conducted an investigative hearing on the matter, also found out that in its report that the spending of the N255 million was not covered by the 2013 budget.

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The House also noted at the time that Ms Oduah breached Nigerian laws by exceeding her approval limit and signing off over N634 million for the agency to buy 54 vehicles.

Another panel set up by the President also indicted Ms Oduah for breach of relevant laws.

While battling with the procurement scandal, Ms Oduah was also enmeshed in another certificate scam.

Searchlight

Although she has never been prosecuted, Ms Oduah has since her removal as the minister, come under the searchlight of various investigative bodies.

For instance, the Federal High Court in Abuja had at the instance of the EFCC on October 18, 2019, made an interim order of forfeiture of the assets of some companies which the EFCC believed had links to the former minister.

The two affected companies were Crystal Television Limited and Sabora International Limited.

The firm’s assets placed under the order of interim forfeiture included dredging vessels and quarry equipment located at Chifuyi village, Apo, Abuja, said to be owned by Sabora International Limited based in Port Harcourt, Rivers State.

The rest of the assets said to be owned by Crystal Television Limited located in Kaura District, Behind Games Village, Abuja, were 20 crates of television/radio equipment, two installed cooling units, one top-class Total Energy 274KVA generator, and mast above 120 feet.

But the judge, Mr Ekwo, on June 8, 2020, vacated the interim forfeiture order on the grounds that there was no proof the firms had any links to Ms Oduah.

The defunct Special Presidential Investigation Panel (SPIP) on the Recovery of Public Property which was being led by Okoi Obono-Obla also filed charges of non-declaration of assets against Ms Oduah at the Federal High Court in Abuja in 2018.

Ms Oduah was never brought to court to answer in respect of the case, but the charges were still pending in court as of the time the SPIP was disbanded by President Muhammadu Buhari in September 2019.

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