A Federal High Court in Abuja has ordered that an ex-aide to former Benue State Governor Gabriel Suswam and two other state officials be remanded in Suleja prison in Niger State for their alleged complicity in the fraudulent diversion of N16.6 billion.
The three are Solomon Wombo, Asen Sambe and Isiah Ipevnor.
Wombo was Special Adviser to Suswam on Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, who doubled as the chairman, Joint Allocation Account for Local Government Committee.
Sambe was Permanent Secretary of the Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and also served as the Secretary to the Joint Account Allocation for Local Government Committee.
Ipevnor was director of Accounts and Finance in the state’s Bureau of Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs and secretary.
Justice Nnamdi Dimgba ordered that the three be remanded in prison while granting them bail.
Justice Dimgba, who rejected the defence’s request that the defendants be remanded in police’s custody, ordered them to remain in prison until they are able to perfect the bail granted them.
Wombo, Sambe and Ipevnor were arraigned on a nine-count charge filed by the office of the Attorney General of the Federation.
They were accused, among others, of fraudulent diversion of N16.6 billion from Benue State’s bank accounts dedicated for the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P) and the Joint Allocation Account for Local Government funds.
After their arraignment, lead prosecution lawyer Aminu Akilu urged the court to remand the defendants in prison pending when their bail applications would be heard.
The judge, however, noted that the offences for which the defendants were arraigned were bailable.
He advised parties to agree on conditions to be attached to the bail to be granted to the defendants.
The judge later stood the case down to enable parties confer and agree on the bail conditions.
The parties, with Akilu (for prosecution) and Innocent Daa’gba later met briefly outside the courtroom, during which they agreed on some conditions, which the judge consequently accepted, but with some modifications.
Justice Dimgba granted bail to the defendants at N100million each with two sureties, one of who must be a civil servant, who must not be lower than an Assistant Director in any state or federal ministries or other government establishments.
The other surety, the judge said, could be a private businessman or woman, who must own a property in the municipal area of Abuja, worth N100 million.
He said civil servant, who accept to serve as surety, must also present his/her letter of appointment, last promotion letter and staff identity card or driver’s licence.
The judge ordered the defendants to deposit their passports and other travel documents and must not travel outside the country without the court’s permission.
The prosecution accused the defendants of fraudulently diverting N16,604,314,604.01 belonging to the 23 local government areas in Benue State.
It said of the N16.6 billion, the defendants, between June 15, 2012 and May 29, 2015, allegedly diverted N7,032,333,506.28 from the state’s “SURE-P Local Government component” bank account into the account of Benue State Local Government Joint Account, with the aim of concealing the money and for their own personal benefits.
Before the defendants were arraigned, Akilu told the court that although the alleged offences were committed in Benue State, the prosecution chose to file the charge in Abuja because of the insecurity in the state before now.
Although the defence lawyer agreed that the trial could be conducted in Abuja, Justice Dimgba noted that it was possible that the case could be heard speedily in Makurdi, where there were few of such high profile cases.
The judge asked parties to reflect on his observation and adjourned to December 18.