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N2.8bn Fraud: Court admits more evidence against Ex-NAMA MD, Abdulsalam

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The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Thursday tendered more evidence against Ibrahim Abdulsalam, a former Managing Director of the National Airspace Management Agency, NAMA, who is being prosecuted before Justice Babs Kuewumi of the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos over an alleged N2.8bn fraud.

Abdulsalam is facing trial alongside Nnamdi Udoh (still at large), Adegorite Olumuyiwa, Segun Agbolade, Clara Aliche, Joy Ayodele Adegorite, Randville Investment Limited and Multeng Travels and Tours Limited for conspiring to induce NAMA to deliver the sum of N2.8 billion to Deposit Limited, Air Sea Delivery Limited and Sea Schedule Systems Limited under the pretext that the money represented the cost of clearing NAMA’s consignments.

One of the counts reads: “That you, Ibrahim Abdulsalam, Adegorite Olumuyiwa, Agbolade Segun, Clara Aliche, Joy Ayodele Adegorite, Randville Invesment Ltd And Multeng Travels And Tours Ltd, between the 1st day of January and the 30th day of December, 2015 within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, did commit an offence, to wit: conversion of the sum of N336,803,308 property of NAMA, which sum was derived from stealing, and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 15(1) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012 and punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act.”

At the resumed hearing today, a prosecution witness, Nurudeen Bello, told the court that the total sum of N2.8 billion was transferred from the Agency between 2013 and 2015 to different companies’ accounts for the personal use of the defendants.

Led in evidence by the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, Bello, an investigator with the EFCC, told the court that “The money was transferred in tranches to Randville Investment Limited and was further disbursed to several companies’ accounts, including another different account owned by Randville Investment Limited.

“The companies that received part of the money included Multeng Travel and Tours, Multeng Engineering and Multeng Aviation, among others.

“N30 million was transferred to the account of a filling station belonging to the third defendant, Segun Agbolade, while N50 million was transferred to one Alaba Odunlami.”

In his further testimony, Bello also said that over N100m cash, mostly in tranches of N3m, were withdrawn from Randville by Agbolade.

Bello said the balance in the account of Randville before the fraud was perpetrated was N8.7 million, adding that “when the unlawful act was carried out, the credit turnover of Randville Investment Limited was N3.6billion while the debit turnover was also N3.6 billion.”

The prosecution counsel, Oyedepo, through the witness, sought to tender in evidence before the court the statements of the fourth defendant dated February 15, 16, 17, 18, 29 and March 12, 2016.

Oyedepo also sought to tender in evidence the statements of sixth defendant dated February 15, 18 and 22, 2016 as well as the statements of the fifth defendants dated February 24, 25, 29 and March 3, 2016. The statements were admitted in evidence by the court.

However, when the prosecution counsel, Oyedepo, sought to tender the statements of the first, second and third defendants, their counsels objected to the admissibility of the statements by the court.

Counsel to the first defendant, Etti Olawuni, objected to the admissibility of his client’s statements dated February 12 and March 6, 2016 on the grounds that they were not made voluntarily.

He therefore urged the court to conduct a trial within trial to verify the statements of his client.

Counsel to the seventh defendant also opposed to the admissibility of the statements of his client, saying, “the statements were purportedly made.”

He, therefore, also asked the court to conduct a trial within trial to verify the statements.

Also, counsel to the second defendant opposed the admissibility of the statements of his client on the grounds that the prosecution had failed to front- load the statements amongst the “proof of evidence”.

In response to the arguments of the defence counsels, Oyedepo told the court that the statements of the first defendant was taken voluntarily and that there were no confessional statements made by him that could warrant a trial within trial.

Regarding the second defendant’s statements, Oyedepo applied to make copies of the statements available to the defence counsel after the proceedings. His application was granted by the court.

However, Oyedepo admitted that the statements of the seventh defendant were contentious.

“I will not oppose the prayer of the defence counsel to the seventh defendant for trial within trial,” he said.

In his ruling, Justice Kuewumi held that “trial within trial shall be conducted to verify the statements of the seventh defendant”.

The Judge further held that he would need time to peruse the statements of the first defendant before ruling on it.

Consequently, Justice Kuewumi adjourned the case to June 14, 2019 for the commencement of trial within trial and also for ruling.

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Digital Economy: NITDA launches ‘Smart Agric Platform’ to create jobs

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NITDA DG, Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi

The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) has launched a platform Smart Agro Business to connect Nigerians who are interested in investing in agro business.

The Director General of the Agency, Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, CCIE said that Smart Agro Platform comprises of farmers, government agencies, agric experts, banks and micro-lenders, extension services, hardware solution providers, software developers, customers, marketplace, among others across the agric value chain.

He said, “This project was conceived in order to support Honourable Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami’s focus especially in making his dream reality towards turning the country into digital-driving economy and ensure the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which is end hunger and achieve good security by 2030.

The DG further noted that Smart Agro is the beginning of a transformation in the agriculture sector to enable farmers contribute effectively to the digital economy of Nigeria and create jobs for the teeming youths.

“What we did is to rethink agriculture differently, by creating a digital platform that will connect the Agric ecosystem and enable the possibility of new business models by the private sector which will, in turn, generate new products and services and create value across the Agric value chain,” he said.

He added that, “NITDA Adopted Village for Smart Agriculture (NAVSA) is a project conceived to create about 6 million jobs in the next 5 to 10 years through our technology platform.

According to NITDA desk officer department of e-Government development and regulation Lukman Lamid the idea is to support 25 graduates in each of the 774 LGAs on modern agric methods, give them the resources and the right technology to enable them to manage their farms from planting to harvesting and marketing.

“This pilot phase is a proof of concept which had witnessed selection, training and support of 15 graduates in Gombe state on modern farming methods in collaboration with National Agriculture Extension and Research Liaison Services (NAERLS).

“We have developed a digital platform in which its mobile app components will continue to serve NITDA supported farmers, any other farmer and all the ecosystem members when it is fully ready.

Lamid noted that ability to get information to monitor farms in real-time and connect with resources to manage farm effectively will improve crop yield, quality of farm produce per block of land and profit for these farmers.

“In the future, we would deploy and integrate smart technologies such as IoT on the platform to improve the accuracy and the processes of getting information in real-time, integrate with GIS technologies, Artificial Intelligence, Big data analytics among other emerging technologies to add more value to the platform.

Lamid stated that the innovation is a product of research paper “Towards Diversification of Nigeria Economy through Smart Agriculture” published by the Minister in June 2017 in International Journal of Computer Science and Information Technology Research.

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Sowore: US senator flays FG, says Nigeria has no regards for rule of law

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Robert Menendez, a US senator

Robert Menendez, a US senator from New Jersey and member of the senate foreign relations committee, says the events surrounding the rearrest of Omoyele Sowore shows that Nigeria no longer has regards for the rule of law.

On Friday, operatives of the Department of State Services (DSS) rearrested Sowore, convener of #RevolutionNow Movement, and Olawale Bakare, an activist, at the federal high court in Abuja less than 24 hours after they were released on the orders of the court.

There were rearrested less than 24 hours after their release after spending 124 days in detention.

Menendez, who said it seems President Muhammadu Buhari is not aware of what the secret police is “doing in his name”, added that Sowore ought to be celebrated and not incarcerated.

He said the development is unacceptable from a country that practices democracy, pushing for a reassessment of the bilateral relations between Nigeria and US.

“The United States is watching and the world is watching. I fear that the blatant harassment of Mr Omoyele Sowore, an activist and journalist whose only crime appears to be exercising his right to free expression, is becoming symptomatic of increasingly closing political and civic space in Nigeria,” Menendez said.

“The Nigerian court has twice ordered his release on bail. And the state security agencies openly defied the court order each time leaving me to conclude that either Nigeria no longer respects the rule of law or President Buhari is woefully out of touch with what agents of his governments are doing in his name.

“This is unacceptable in a country that calls itself a democracy. Journalists who risk their lives to expose the truth should be celebrated, not incarcerated.

“It is unacceptable to that the husband and father of a US citizen with such blatant cruelty. Today, my office contacted our ambassador in Nigeria in an effort to obtain answers on what actions the United States is taking on the Sowore family’s behalf.

“In the next several days, I’ll continue to engage with the states department in Washington to ascertain the impart of what the arrest of Mr Sowore and other activists and journalists will have on our relationship with Nigeria. My hope is that the bilateral relationship we have with Nigeria will be reassessed in light of these events.”

Last month, the lawmaker had written a letter to Sylvanus Nsofor, Nigeria’s ambassador to US, over the crack down on journalists and activists”.

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Edo Assembly declares 12 seats vacant

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Edo State House of Assembly on Wednesday declared 12 seats in the assembly vacant.

The seats declared vacant are those of members-elect who have refused to present themselves for inauguration into the 7th Assembly and two others who did not meet the mandatory sitting requirement to continue as members of the House.

The Speaker of the House, Mr Francis Okiye, said even if the affected members decided to resume, they would not be able to meet the mandatory 180 sitting days as enshrined in the constitution.

The affected 12 members-elect are Vincent Uwadiae- Ovia North-East 2; Ugiagbe Dumez -Ovia North-East 1; Washington Osifo-Uhunmwode; Victor Edoror-Esan Central; Kingsley Ugabi- Etsako East; and Michael Ohio-Ezomo Owan West.

Others are Sunday Aghedo-Ovia South-West; Chris Okaeben-Oredo West; Crosby Eribo-Egor: Aliyu Oshiomhole-Etsako West 2; Oshomah Ahmed -Etsako Central and Ganiyu Audu-Etsako West 1.

Okiye, while declaring the seats vacant, said the 12 members-elect refused to come forward to process the necessary documentation as part of the condition for their inauguration.

He said, “12 out of the 24 members-elect who completed their screening and documentation process were inaugurated on June 17, 2019 out of which two of them have refused to discharge their legislative duties.

“They have refused to represent their constituents in the House, invariably denying their constituents effective representation.

“At this point, I am declaring the seats of the 12 members-elect vacant in accordance with Section 109 Subsection 1F of the constitution.”

Okiye thereafter called on the Independent National Electoral Commission to conduct by-elections for the affected constituencies within 90 days.

The Deputy Speaker of the House, Mr Yekini Idiaye, representing Akoko Edo State Constituency I, said the lawmakers arrived at the decision to declare the seats vacant following over 100 petitions and protests from the people of the constituencies who complained of neglect as a result of lack of representation by the members-elect.

But the spokesman of the affected lawmakers-elect, Mr Washington Osifo, said the action of the assembly was laughable.

He said, “It is a laughing matter because the matter is before the court and when a matter is before the court, such action is sub judice.

“We are challenging the illegal inauguration of the House and anything put on nothing cannot stand. So, Okiye is a man that is in search of identity, he is working with the governor in the pursuit of a blind ambition, they have hit the rock.”

He said the House also passed the 2020 Appropriation Bill and affirmed the removal of the suspended Chairman of Etsako East Local Government Area, Alhaji Aramiyau Momoh.

Other matter considered at the sitting, according to him, was the confirmation of the members of the board of the Edo State Internal Revenue Service.

-PUNCH

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