A former governor of Katsina State, Shehu Shema, was on Tuesday arraigned before a Federal High Court over alleged misappropriation of N5.7 billion under the then Subsidy Reinvestment Programme (SURE-P), but his aide insists his trial is politically motivated.
The governor is currently remanded in the custody of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on the order of the judge, Babagana Ashigar of the Federal High Court, Katsina.
Sure-P was a showcase programme of former President Goodluck Jonathan's administration that was designed to re-invest government savings from fuel subsidy removal on critical infrastructure projects and social safety net programmes with direct impact on the citizens of Nigeria.
Though it was generally believed to a be well-intended government project to improve lives, Sure-P later turned out to be cash cow for those managing it as well as most of the benefiting states.
In Katsina State, it is believed that not less than N5.7 billion trickled into the state for key infrastructural projects since the programme was established in 2012. The current government of Bello Masari believes that much of that fund was diverted or misappropriated by his predecessor.
The former governor of the state was dragged to court on Tuesday after a petition was filed before the EFCC accusing him of stealing the funds.
Governor Shema had denied the allegations contained in the 26-count charge.
But this is not the first time the embattled governor is being dragged to court over similar corruption charges.
In January this year, the Supreme Court ruled that Mr Shema and three other officials who served in his government can be prosecuted by the EFCC on an alleged diversion of N11 billion local government fund when he was the governor of the state.
Mr Shema, and his three co-defendants (Sani Hamisu Makana, Lawal Ahmad Safana and Ibrahim Lawal Dankaba) had earlier challenged the decision of a Katsina State High Court and the Court of Appeal in Kaduna which in 2017 upheld the validity of the 22-count charge against the former governor.
But in the opinion of Mr Shema's aide, the governor is sponsoring a state persecution of his principal in order to distract him from pursuing his future political ambition ahead 2019.
The aide, Oluwabusola Olawale, heads the media team of Mr Shema.
In a press statement tagged 'Evil cannot triumph over good', Mr Olawale said Mr Shema is innocent.
He said the latest arraignment of Mr Shema was "a jittery reaction of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) over a mega People's Democratic Party (PDP) rally that was convened in the state."
Mr Shema is an active member of the opposition PDP.
"The persecution of former Governor Ibrahim Shehu Shema is taking a new dimension with his arraignment before the Federal High Court Katsina on Tuesday. It is becoming more and more obvious that it is not about war against corruption but a grand plot and agenda by Governor Aminu Bello Masari administration to keep the former Governor Ibrahim Shehu Shema out of political space ahead of 2019 general election more so with the outcome of recently conducted Peoples Democratic Party mega rally in the State which further aroused the sinister agenda of the ruling administration against Ibrahim Shehu Shema.
"Our position remains the same since Governor Aminu Bello Masari started his persecution, intimidation and harassment of former Governor Ibrahim Shehu Shema by setting up over 30 different committees to probe Shema administration, granted over 200 media interviews to call him a thief and continue to sponsor media trial against Shema, setting up Commission of Inquiry, sponsoring petitions to EFCC and ICPC. We inisist that Shema is innocent of all the allegations and accusations, and ever ready to defend himself in fair and just trial based on the rule of law," the statement said in part.
The spokesperson said Mr Shema is ready to defend himself against all the charges.
"Former Governor Ibrahim Shehu Shema stands by his position that he is ready to defend himself in fair and just trial and (is) therefore urging Nigerians and International Communities to read between the lines what is the motive of Governor Aminu Bello Masari who is behind the trial of Shema for this desperation. And with the fresh suit before Justice Babagana Ashgar of Federal High Court Katsina, we urge Nigerians and International Communities to monitor closely the procedure of arraignment of Shema to understand the motive and agenda of the fresh suit."
The spokesman of Governor Masari, Abdu Labaran, could not be reached on phone for comments as his phone was switched off at the time PREMIUM TIMES placed a call across to him, Friday morning.
Meanwhile, Mr Shema remains in EFCC custody until the court decides on his bail application Friday.