In this report, KUNLE OLASANMI takes a look at the trial of some former Katsina State government’s officials and the controversial takeover of their cases by the state government from the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC).
The trial of some former officials of Katsina state government over the alleged mismanagement of N5.7 billion SURE-P fund has been generating controversy since it began on October 25, 2017.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) on behalf of the federal government filed a case of alleged fraudulent mismanagement of Katsina State Sure-P funds before the state High Court against the trio of former Special Adviser on Katsina State Sure-P Office, Nasiru Salisu Ingawa; former Director of Accounts and Finance of Sure-P Dept, Abdulazeez Abdullahi Shinkafi; and Chief Store Officer of Katsina State Civil Service, Bello Ibrahim Bindawa.
In the case brought against them by the ICPC in charge numbers KTH/8C/2017 and KTH/9C/ 2017, they accused the former Special Adviser, Nasiru Salisu Ingawa and two others of committing financial crime contrary to sections 12,19 and 26 of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act 2000.
But in a twist of events, at the sitting of the Katsina State High Court on October 25, 2017, the Katsina State Attorney-General, Ahmed El- Marzuq, informed the court of the readiness of the Katsina State government to take over the prosecution of the accused from the ICPC after he notified the court that he had already obtained a fiat from the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Abubakar Malami (SAN).
The action of the AGF in taking over the ICPC-investigated cases with intention of handing them over to the Katsina State government for prosecution, has started raising dust, with many lawyers wondering what could have prompted the AGF to take such decision.
At the sitting of the Katsina State High Court 3 on October 25, 2017, the ICPC’s prosecuting counsel, Barrister Nosa Omohigbo, resisted vehemently the attempt of the Katsina State government to take over the case. He told the court that ICPC had already concluded investigation and that the commission had established prima facie cases against the accused persons and any attempt to take over the cases would jeopardise the chances of prosecution and whitle down the fight against corruption.
The ICPC counsel said the comission has enough evidence from investigations to determine culpability of the accused. Barr. Omohigbo further stated that it was a misnomer for the Katsina State government that is a vested party in the matter to seek fiat to try the accused persons, especially since they are politically exposed persons and had jumped ship from their previous political party to the ruling party in the state.
However in his judgement on the matter on November 14, 2017, Justice Maikaita Bako of the Katsina State High Court ruled in favour of the Katsina State government. The trial judge noted that the supervisory authority of the ICPC rests in the office of the AGF and since Malami had issued fiat to the Katsina State government, the court can not decide otherwise.
However, some lawyers see the development as sad, worrisome and disgraceful that the federal government would set up an anti-graft agency only to strip it of its prosecutorial powers and hand over the same authority to the Katsina State government with vested political interest, not minding the grave consequence of jeopardising the war against corruption.
Suspecting a foul play and attempt to thwart the case by the state government, ICPC insisted on not handing over the case file to the state government. It petitioned the office of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and sought the VP’s intervention on the matter. Curiously, Osinbajo has consequently referred the petition to the same AGF for a decision.
Despite the arraignment of the accused persons by the ICPC since October 25, 2017, more than a year ago, the trial, which suffered a string of adjournments, was again stalled on October 23, 2018, due to alleged directive by the AGF, Abubakar Malami, to the ICPC to hand over the case file to the Katsina State government.
When the matter was called on October 23, 2018, Katsina State Solicitor-General, Abdulsalam Sabiu told the court that the office of the AGF had directed the release of necessary legal documents from the office of the ICPC to his office for onward transmission to the Katsina state government but the state government was yet to receive the case file.
The trial Judge, Justice Maikaita Bako, adjourned the case to November 27, 2018, for continuation of trial.
To further confirm the fears of ICPC on the attempt by the Katsina State government to take over and scuttle the case, the Katsina State Solicitor-General, Abdulsalam Sabiu, when asked by journalists the reason why the state government decided to take over the case, said the government took over the prosecution from the ICPC because the case is of high premium interest to the state government.
Reacting to the development, a Kaduna-based lawyer, AbdulHameed Adije, in his view, said the reason adduced by the state’s Solicitor-General for taking over the case from ICPC is not enough ground to warrant taking over the matter.
He said: “Does it mean that the state government does not trust the anti-graft body to prosecute the case to a logical conclusion. It is doubtful if the state will allow the case to end in a logical conclusion because the accused persons have now moved to the ruling party in the state”
As the trial continues on Tuesday, November 27, 2018, all eyes are on Katsina State High Court to know how far the prosecution of the accused persons will go.