Eric Ikhilae, Abuja

EX-HEAD of the Civil Service of the Federation (HoCSF), Mrs. Winnifred Oyo-Ita was arraigned on Monday before a Federal High Court in Abuja on alleged fraud and money laundering-related offences.

Arraigned with Mrs. Oyo-Ita are two of her former aides,  Ubong Okon Effiok and Garba Umar.

Others are companies allegedly linked to the former HoCSF, Effiok and Umar –  Frontline Ace Global Services Limited, Asanaya Projects Limited, Slopes International Limited, Gooddeal Investments Limited, U & U Global Services Limited and Prince Mega Logistics Limited.

The prosecution claimed that Mrs. Oyo-Ita owns Frontline Ace Global Services Limited, Asanaya Projects Limited; Umar owns Slopes International Limited, Gooddeal Investments Limited, and that Effiok owns U& U Global Services Limited and Prince Mega Logistics Limited, firms allegedly used to syphon public funds.

The prosecuting agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) claimed, in the 18-count charge that the defendants were allegedly involved in fraudulent activities in relation to manipulation of Duty Tour Allowances (DTA); estacodes, conference fees fraud and accepting kick-backs on contracts.

The prosecution also claimed that, during investigation, it found that Mrs. Oyo-Ita, both as a director, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, and later as HoCSF, allegedly used her companies, those belonging to Effiok and Umar, to receive kickbacks from contractors.

The EFCC further claimed that Oyo-Ita worked with Effiok (who was her Special Assistant) and Okunriboye T. Titus (an Accountant in the office of the HoCSF) to make  bogus claims of fictitious DTA, estacodes, conference fees which were paid by the government to the accounts of the suspects.

All the nine defendants pleaded not guilty when each count of the charge was read to them.

Upon their not guilty plea, the lead prosecuting lawyer, Mohammed Abubakar, urged the court to fix a date for the commencement of trial.

But, the defence team, led by Paul Erokoro (SAN), urged the court to admit the defendants to bail in liberal terms in view of the Coronavirus pandemic.

Erokoro, who represented Mrs. Oyo-Ita, told the court that the pandemic “is a clear threat to life and the government has taken steps to curtain the spread of the deadly virus.”

He undertook to produce his client in court to stand trial when required.

Abubakar, in his response, noted that the discretion to grant bail in a criminal case, was that of the court.

He said if the court was mindful of admitting the defendants to bail, it should be at conditions that will ensure they attend court to face their trial.

Ruling, Justice Taiwo Taiwo granted bail to Mrs. Oyo-Ita at N100 million with two sureties.

Justice Taiwo said one of the sureties must be a Grade Level 17 officer in Federal Government employment and must have a landed property worth the bail bond.

The second surety must show evidence of being gainfully employed and have the capacity to bail the sum of N100 million in the event that the defendant jumps bail.

Other conditions are that Mrs. Oyo-Ita must deposit her two passports with the registrar of the court and shall be reporting to the prosecuting counsel at EFCC office for seven days with effect from March 24, pending when she will perfect the conditions attached to her bail.

The judge released Mrs. Oyo-Ita to her counsel Paul Erokoro, for the seven days, Justice Taiwo warned she will be remanded in the EFCC custody if she failed to meet her bail conditions within the period.

The judge also admitted Umar and Effiok to N50 million bail each. Other conditions attached to their bail are similar to that of Mrs. Oyo-Ita.

Justice Taiwo adjourned till May 27 for the commencement of trial.

Some counts in the charge read:

* That you, Winifred Oyo-Ita, aka Oyo-Ita, Winifred Ekanem (whilst being the Head of Civil Service of the Federation) between 2nd August 2016 and 28th February, 2018  took possession of an aggregate sum of N62,215,169.00 paid into your Zenith Bank account No: 1001074067 knowing that the said funds formed part of the proceed of an unlawful activity to wit: fraud (purported estacodes for journeys not embarked on) and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 15(2)(d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended) and punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act

* That you, Winifred Oyo-Ita,  (whilst being the Head of Civil Service of the Federation) on or about 8th July, 2019 took control of the sum of N54,285.714.29 ) paid by the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing through the bank account of Ad-Botog International Limited (a company promoted by one Prince Tope Ogundele) as part-payment for a contract [the award of which was facilitated by you] when you reasonably ought to have known that the said funds formed part of the proceed of an unlawful activity to wit: corruption and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Settion 15(2)(d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended) and punishable under section 15(3) of the same Act.

* That you, Winifred Oyo-Ita,  (whilst being the Head of Civil Service of the Federation) on or about 30th January 2019 take control of the sum of N427,881,142.86 paid by the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing through the bank account of Amida Global Resources Limited (a company promoted by one Amida Joseph) as part-payment for a contract [the award of which was facilitated by you) when you reasonably ought to have known that the said funds formed part of the proceed of an unlawful activity to wit: corruption and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 15(2)(d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended) and punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act.

*That you Winifred Oyo-Ita (whilst being the Head of Civil Service of the Federation), between 2015 and 2018 procured one Ubong Okon Effiok (your Personal Assistant) and one Okunriboye T. Titus (an Accountant in the office of the Head of Civil Service of the Federation) to take possession of the sum of N 137,410,530.00 knowing that the said sum is proceed of an unlawful activity to wit: criminal misappropriation and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 180(c) read in conjunction with section 15(2)(b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended} and punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act.

*That you, Winifred Oyo-Ita (whilst being the Head of Civil Service of the Federation), Garba Umar (while being a civil servant and alter ego of Gooddeal Investments Limited) and Gooddeal Investments Limited (a company incorporated in Nigeria and of which Garha Umar is a shareholder, director and sole signatory of your bank account, on or about 7th February 2019 took control of the sum of N42,748,201.47 paid into the  account of Gooddeal Investments Limited No: 1012321318 by the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing as part-payment for a contract when you reasonably ought to have known that the said sum formed part of proceed of an unlawful activity to wit: corruption and you thereby committed an offence contrary to section 15(2)(d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended) and punishable under section 15(3) 8: (4) 0f the Act.

*That you Ubong Okon Effiok (whilst being the Personal Assistant to the Head of Civil Service of the Federation) and U & U Global Services Limited ( a private company incorporated in Nigeria in which Ubong Okon Effiok is a shareholder, director and the sole signatory of its bank account) between 2015 and 2018 , did transfer an aggregate sum of N24,990,000 to Winifred Oyo-Ita, knowing that the said funds formed part of the proceed of unlawful activity to wit: fraud, an offence contrary to Section 15(2)(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011(as amended) and punishable under Section 15(3) & (4) of the Act.

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