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Former NSITF chairman, Olejeme, remanded in EFCC custody

A HIGH Court sitting in Jabi, Federal Capital Territory (FCT), yesterday, ordered that the former board chairman of Nigeria Social Insurance Trust Fund, Ngozi Olejeme, be remanded in the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s custody, until today.

The embattled Olejeme is standing trial over alleged case of criminal conspiracy, abuse of office, diversion of public funds and money laundering, an offence she allegedly committed between 2012 and 2015, when she was the board chairman of the NSITF. She was brought before the court for allegedly defrauding the agency of N69 billion.

The judge, Justice Maryam Hassan gave the order after listening to counsels’ submissions on the defendant’s bail application. She directed that the defendant be kept in the EFCC’s custody pending the ruling on the application for bail today.

According to the charge sheet, the none-count charge which includes mismanagement, giving false statement, taking kickback from contracts and diversion of NSITF funds into personal accounts and companies she had interest in, formed the basis for her arraignment.

One of the charge alleged that the funds were diverted through the award of suspicious contracts to proxy companies. The offence prosecution said contravened the provisions of sections 8, 19 (1)(b) (1), punishable under the Corrupt Practice and other Related Offence Act 2000, and Section 17 (1)(2) and 39 of EFCC (Establishment) Act, 2004 and punishable under the same section.

The defendant, however, pleaded not guilty to the charge preferred against her. Following this, the prosecution counsel, Steve Odiase prayed for a date for hearing to enable prosecution to prove her case against the defendant.

Counsel to the defendant, Paul Erokoro SAN, informed the court of the bail application dated and filed on Oct.18 before it. He submitted that the application was supported by a 20-paragraphs affidavit attached with six Exhibits.

Erokoro also informed the court that his client was not a flight risk, as she voluntarily returned to Nigeria when she heard that the prosecution wanted to question her. He further stated that his client had been reporting to the Commission’s office as she was questioned and released on bail in 2017.

He urged the court to grant his client bail on self-recognisance or in the alternative, in the most liberal terms, adding that the bail application was predicated on medical grounds as the defendant has been diabetic and hypertensive for 30 years.

In addition, Erokoro further told the court that the defendant has had four major surgeries in the U.S and South Africa. He stated that the defendant four months ago suffered a heart failure and got infected with Covid-19 virus in September.

He also submitted that the defendant had been scheduled for another follow -up surgery in November in South Africa. He averred that the defendant’s recent medical report from a medical facility stated that she required close medical monitoring as her medical status can lead to a medical emergency.

Prosecution counsel on his part responded that he was not opposing the bail application, but opposed to the granting of bail on self-recognisance as submitted by the defence counsel.

He said that there was no consideration for bail on self-recognisance in Section 165 (1) of Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015. He urged the court to grant the defendant bail with reasonable surety.

Olejeme, along with former Managing Director of NSITF, Umar Abubakar, allegedly diverted over N69 billion belonging to the fund. The amount was reportedly found in accounts linked to them after the award of spurious contracts to proxy companies.

Trouble started for Olojeme shortly after her sack by President Muhammadu Buhari in 2015. The EFCC received a petition alleging that over N50 billion from the Employee Compensation Scheme, paid by Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) as well as private companies, and another N18 billion being contributions of the Federal Government as take-off grants to the NSITF, were diverted into the personal accounts of the suspects.

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