Abuja — There is no respite yet for the two former Aviation Ministers, Prof. Babalola Borisade and Chief Femi Fani-Kayode, arrested in connection with N19.5 billion Aviation Intervention Fund.
A Magistrate's Court in Life Camp, Abuja yesterday denied the two ex-ministers bail, ordering that they be remanded in the custody of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) till tomorrow.
EFCC arraigned the two ex-ministers in court yesterday as opposed to today (contrary to the original plan which THISDAY had reported) in order not to run foul of the law that requires that suspects must not be detained for more than 48 hours before they are arraigned in court.
Also ordered to be remanded in EFCC custody is the former Managing Director of the Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), Captain Rowland Iyayi.
The court ordered that the three of them would remain in EFCC custody until tomorrow when formal application for bail would have been filed before the court.
In what looked like the old practice of holding charge whereby the prosecution would rush to court while still perfecting its investigation on a matter, EFCC might have rushed to the Magistrate's Court to arraign the accused knowing that the jurisdiction to try the accused does not lie in the court.
Only a few were surprised when Chief Magistrate kadir Lamido, after listening to arguments for and against the granting of bail, asked the accused to be sent back to EFCC custody until tomorrow.
Borishade, Fani-Kayode and Iyayi were brought to court around 11.22 am amidst tight security and as soon as they entered the dock, the First Information Report containing the summary of their offence was read to them.
They all pleaded not guilty.
The charge read as follows: "That you Hon. Femi Fani-Kayode, Hon. Babalola Borishade and Rowland Iyayi on or about 13th June 2006 within the jurisdiction of the honourable court did conspire among yourselves criminal conspiracy, breach of official trust, breach of trust, forgery and misappropriation of Federal Government Funds to the tune of N19.5 billion meant for the intervention industry especially for four international airports: Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano, thereby committed an offence contrary to Sections 97, 99, 314, 364 and 209 of Penal Code."
EFCC's lawyer Steve Odiase told the court that investigations about the accused were still in progress both at home and abroad and that in the event of granting them bail, "there is the possibility of not only jumping the bail but also prejudicing investigations as they have the financial muscle and pedigree to interfere with witnesses."
Odiase said the information before the court was sufficient to grant the application because the offence was in the nature of a high profile case which, if found guilty at the end of trial, could earn each of them 14 years prison term.
He said forgery and breach of trust were no simple offences and that it was premature for the defence to harp on prima facie case against the accused persons who, according to him, have a duty to furnish the court with documents to rely upon for the discretion of the court to be exercised in their favour.
But defence lawyers, Kingsley Osuh and Bankole Akomolafe, stated that by the provision of Section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the accused were still innocent notwithstanding their arrest, detention and arraignment by EFCC.
They said no charge had been filed against them and that the submission that if granted bail the accused persons would jump bail was speculative and a personal opinion of the counsel for the anti-graft body.
Akomolafe added that the requirement of the law was that the prosecution must supply cogent and verifiable reasons for the court to deny bail to the accused.
According to him, there is no way the accused could interfere with investigation since they are no longer public officials whereby they could have unfettered access to documents.
They urged the court to grant them bail on liberal terms as they were ready to provide responsible sureties, adding that the accused were like a gold fish which has no hiding place.
Immediately after Chief Magistrate Kadir delivered the ruling wherein he denied them bail, EFCC officials accosted the trio and took them away around 3.45pm.
Borisade, Kayode and Iyayi were arrested on Monday after they had made their submissions to the Senate committee probing the fund.
Before then, the Managing Director of the company who got the N6.5 billion Safe Tower Contract, Avsatel Ges MB of Austria, Mr. George Eider, had also been arrested and arraigned.
In a statement issued last night by EFCC, spokesman, Femi Babafemi, the commission spoke about the arraignment.
EFCC said: "While pressing charges against the accused, EFCC prosecution counsel, Steve Odiase, told the court that the former aviation top officials had conspired to misappropriate Federal Government's funds totaling N19.5billion.
"According to the First Information Report read in the court, Hon. Femi Fani-Kayode (M) Hon. Babalola Borishade (M) and Mr. Roland Iyayi on or about the 13th June, 2006 within jurisdiction of court did conspire among yourselves to commit criminal conspiracy, breach of official trust, criminal breach of trust, forgery and misappropriation of Federal Government fund to the tune of 19.5 billion naira meant for the intervention in Aviation industry, specifically for four international airports in Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kano. The above offences are contrary to sections 97, 99, 314, 364 and 309 of the penal code law.
Meanwhile, former Rivers State governor Peter Odili has denied giving N2 billion to Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to further his 2007 presidential ambition.
Instead, he said he was moved to provide the fund as loan to fast track the re-opening of Omagwa International Airport due to the harrowing difficulties air passengers were passing through in landing at nearby airports.
Odili who reacted through his Media Adviser Emma Okah described reports which indicted his boss as false as there was no truth in the allegation that he furthered fraud by making available the funds.
Okah dismissed the allegation that the money was given with ulterior motives as "falsehood and grave distortions," adding that there was no truth in the testimony of Mohammed Yusuf, Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) Managing Director when he appeared on Tuesday before the Senate panel probing the aviation fund.
"The attention of Dr Peter Odili, former Governor of Rivers State, has been drawn to some unfortunate newspaper reports Wednesday 2nd July, 2008 alleging that Dr Peter Odili caused the loan of N2b (two billion naira) to be given to the Federal Ministry of Aviation, (and by extension) the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to further his presidential ambition. Those reports were quoting the testimony of one Mr. Mohammed Yusuf, former Managing Director of FAAN at the on-going Senate investigation into the management of the Aviation Intervention Fund in Nigeria.
"Given the deliberate falsehood and grave distortions of facts contained in those reports arising from the said testimony and indeed for the avoidance of all doubts, it has become more compelling to put the facts of the loan straight for public scrutiny and judgment.
"Following the sudden closure of the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa in 2006, all international and local flights were disrupted, causing a lot of inconveniences to passengers and to those whose earnings were from activities at and around the Omagwa International Airport. This situation dislocated and inflicted heavy losses on the economy of the state, companies and individuals, given the fact that it was and still is, the only airport hosting International Flights in the entire South-south and South-east Geo-Political Zones of Nigeria.
"When it became obvious that the Federal Ministry of Aviation was not in a financial position to begin the supposed repair works on time and given the bottlenecks that were attending the release of funds at that time, the Rivers State Government Executive Council passed a resolution granting a soft loan to the Federal Government and the Federal Ministry of Aviation to enable immediate commencement of works at the airport. This repayable facility was only intended to bridge the gap and save time. The negotiations with contractors, and indeed the schedule of disbursements were not the purview of the State Government and were exclusively done by Federal Ministry of Aviation/FAAN", he said.
He said when there were too much delay, his boss muted the idea of giving the loan which he said belonged to Rivers State people and therefore repayable in addition to rehabilitating the run-way at Airforce base and putting runway lightings for public use.
He said such gesture ought to have proved to people that the loan was facilitated to ensure quick resumption of flights at Omagwa as a special account was opened with Zenith Bank Plc to disburse the said loan.
As a further proof that his boss was not interested in the details about the money except to see the completion of jobs for continued business in the state, he did not participate in the discussions about the disbursement of the money and negotiation with contractors.
"In granting the loan, the Rivers State Government under Dr Peter Odili was motivated by patriotism, the pathetic and harrowing plight of passengers, who were subjected to armed robbery attacks, accidents, time wastage, general uncertainty of the trips from both the Sam Mbakwe Cargo Airport Owerri and the Akanu Ibiam International Airport Enugu to Port Harcourt and the necessity to do good without drawing lines. It is therefore extremely sad for anybody to impute any other motive than good governance and overriding public interest," he said.