The trial of 23 staff members of the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, who were accused of collecting a total of N360 million in bribes during the Rivers State re-run election began today at the Federal High Court, Abuja.
They are facing a 7-count criminal charge of money laundering and corruption, contrary to the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011.
The accused persons include: Shittu Lamido, Henry Owokure, Peter Ewatade, Mary Pennap, Gwatana Jibril, Ivase Stephen, Abdullahi Ogabo, Gayus Hassan, Hussaina Yahaya, James Ogwuche, Karimu Aminu and Adedokun Ayotunde.
Others are Balogun Funmilayo, Adams Kadiri, Akinwande Adesoji, Lukeman Olabimpe and Tiamiyu Arowolo, Akinwoye Amodu, Nwoha Yusuf, Patrick Anuke, Iro Abali, Nwosu Oluchi and Arukwe Chinelo.
In the suit marked FHC/ABJ/CR//42/2017, the federal government alleged that the N350 million represented proceeds of “Wike’s criminal conduct as well as economic and financial crimes.”
In count 1, the federal government alleged that “all electoral officers and staff of INEC 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.”
The prosecution also 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.”
However, the accused persons could not enter a plea as their counsel, Ahmed Raji, filed an objection challenging the jurisdiction of the court to entertain the case.
Raji opined that since the alleged crimes were committed in Rivers State, the court in Abuja lacked the jurisdiction to hear the matter.
The prosecuting counsel, A. K. Aliu however said he would challenge the application.
After listening to their arguments, Justice John Tsoho adjourned the case to April 7 for hearing on the motion.
Recall that an investigative Panel set up by the Inspector General of Police, IGP, Ibrahim Idris, to look into the Rivers State legislative re-run election, said it recovered a total of N111 million out of the N360 million bribe money allegedly paid the INEC officials by the Governor of Rivers State, Nyesom Wike.
Chairman of the panel, Damian Okoro, said that three senior INEC officers received N20 million each while others received N15 million from Governor Wike in order to influence the election.