The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on Wednesday, finally arraigned two members of the House of Representatives, Herman Hembe and Ifeanyi Azubuogu, before an Abuja High Court for two counts of misappropriation and conversion of public funds to personal use.
The charge arose from allegations made against them by the Director-General of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Ms. Arunma Oteh.
The EFCC also called five witnesses against the two lawmakers when the trial commenced after the court had granted them bail.
Hembe a former chairman, House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market and Institutions and Azubuogu, who was his deputy, pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Following an oral application for bail by the defence counsel led by Jubril Okutepa, the presiding judge, Justice Abubakar Umar, granted bail to the accused persons.
The defence counsel had argued that the court should exercise its discretion and admit the accused persons to bail, since they had been reporting at the court while they were on administrative bail granted them by the EFCC during the course of investigations into the charges.
He said, “My Lord, please order that they should continue on the EFCC bail, on liberal terms, just like the one granted them by the EFCC.
“The prosecution has concluded investigations, so they (accused persons) cannot interfere. If the accused persons did not jump bail during the investigations, they will not jump bail now.
However, the prosecution counsel led by Ogbfu Obe, asked the court to refuse the bail application.
Obe told the court to take note of the “rampant nature of corruption in the country” in refusing the bail application.
“We don’t intend to take more than two sittings to conclude the trial. My Lord, please refuse the bail application and order a speedy trial, he said.
But the judge went ahead to grant Hembe and Azubuogu bail on very liberal terms.
The judge noted that he considered the accused persons’ antecedents, particularly their willingness to attend court sessions, before granting their bail application.
Umar said, “It is out of place for the prosecution to say that I should not consider the antecedents of the accused persons.
“I therefore find merit in the application and grant the accused persons bail.”
The lawmakers’ trial commenced immediately the court admitted them to bail.
Five witnesses were called by the prosecution. They are Austin Adache, an EFCC investigator; Aniete Udoh, another EFCC investigator; Olufemi Olusanya, Clerk of the House of Representatives Committee on Capital Market and Institutions; Hassan Mamman, a protocol officer with SEC; and Ibrahim Usman, a senior supervisor in Finance Department of SEC.
Adache, who told the court that he interviewed Hembe, the 1st accused person, averred that investigations revealed that the the sum of $4,095 was collected by each of the accused persons to attend a conference in the Dominican Republic, and that they did not attend the conference.