A former governor of Imo State, Rochas Okorocha, on Monday, pleaded not guilty to a N2.9 billion fraud charge filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
EFCC had, in January, filed a 17-count charge against the former governor over allegations of stealing N2.9 billion public funds while in office.
After the charge was read to Mr Okorocha and his co-defendant, Anyim Nyerere, EFCC’s lawyer, Gbolahan Latona, asked the court for a date for trial.
But Mr Okorocha’s lawyer, Okey Amaechi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), informed the judge, Inyang Ekwo, of a pending bail application for his client.
Mr Amaechi drew the court’s attention to the siege on Mr Okorocha’s Abuja home last Tuesday.
He argued that any delay in granting his client bail could scuttle Mr Okorocha’s presidential bid; as his party, the All Progressives Congress (APC) was set to screen presidential aspirants for its primaries scheduled for Sunday.
Subsequently, the judge adjourned Mr Okorocha’s bail request hearing and determination for Tuesday, May 31.
Mr Okorocha will, thus, remain in EFCC custody till then.
After four months of filing charges against Mr Okorocha, the EFCC, on Monday, brought Mr Okorocha to the Federal High Court in Abuja.
But efforts to arraign Mr Okorocha had been unsuccessful, due to the inability of the anti-graft agency to personally serve the charges on the ex-governor.
Last Tuesday, after a six-hour standoff between protesters loyal to Mr Okorocha and operatives of the EFCC in Abuja, dozens of armed personnel of the anti-corruption agency broke into the former’s residence before whisking him away.
EFCC said it was compelled to forcibly arrest Mr Okorocha after he jumped an administrative bail granted him by the commission.
When the suit first came up on February 22, Mr Okorocha was neither in court nor have any legal representation– forcing the judge, Inyang Ekwo, to threaten to dismiss the case following EFCC’s complaint of inability to serve the former governor with the charge.
Cosmos Ugwu, EFCC’s lawyer, had told the judge, “My lord, we have made several but unsuccessful attempts to serve the charge on the first defendant (Mr Okorocha).
“We urge the court for an adjournment to enable us serve the 1st defendant.”
Again, on March 28, Mr Okorocha was not in court. The two consecutive absence from court led to threats of striking out the suit.
“One month plus you are still coming to say you are yet to serve,” the judge noted over EFCC’s inability to serve court papers on the former Imo governor.
“This will be the last time this matter will be adjourned,” Mr Ekwo said before adjourning the suit until May 30.
This newspaper had reported that the charges…
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