A prosecution witness has narrated how a former chairman, Pension Reform Task Force Team, (PRTFT), Abdulrasheed Maina, who is standing trial before a Federal High Court in Abuja, stole about N14 billion from pension accounts through several illegal payments to fake pensioners, non-existing contracts, and other pension reform unions.
The witness, Rouqayyah Ibrahim, an investigator with the EFCC, on Wednesday also told Justice Okon Abang, how a former Head of Service, Stephen Oronsaye, allegedly aided Mr Maina to divert some of the stolen funds through 66 bank accounts.
This development was revealed via a statement released by the EFCC.
The EFCC is prosecuting Mr Maina, who is on the run, alongside his firm, Common Input Property and Investment Ltd, on a 12-count charge of operating fictitious bank accounts, corruption, and money laundering to the tune of N2 billion.
Justice Abang had ordered the continuation of the trial in absentia of Mr Maina, after he failed to attend court proceedings since September 29 this year, with his counsel, Francis Oronsaye, claiming his client was ill.
A Nigerian senator, Ali Ndume, who stood surety for Mr Maina, was recently remanded in jail for failing to provide the suspect.
At the court hearing, the investigator, who is the ninth prosecution witness, told the court that part of the alleged fraud was discovered in 2010, after the EFCC was invited to join the pension verification exercise.
He said the commission discovered “a payment mandate, bearing the names of several individuals, totalling N94 million of which some of the pensioners’ names on the list were fake”.
The witness said an investigation by the commission, through its Pension Fraud Team found that “Abdulrasheed Maina was deeply involved in stealing those pension funds”.
The witness said, “in the five modus operandi was payment to fake pensioners, non-existing contracts, illegal payment to National Union of Pension (NUP) and illegal payment to another association called Association of Retired Federal Civil Servants.”
The witness also said Mr Maina paid pension funds into the private accounts owned by Mr Oronsaye, who headed the HoS Commission between 2009 and 2010.
The witness said this was discovered ”after the EFCC approached about 30 banks for account details linking the ex-head of HoS, in which it was discovered he operated 66 illegal bank accounts, that the Accountant General was unaware of”.
In 2014, PREMIUM TIMES exclusively reported how the auditor-general indicted Mr Oronsaye for N123 billion allegedly diverted between 2009 and 2010 under his watch.
Mr Oronsaye is also standing criminal trial with Osa Afe and three other companies for alleged fraud in awarding purported contracts for non-existing biometric data capturing to the tune of N292 million.
Meanwhile, the EFCC investigator said: “part of what our investigation revealed was that the head of service, Mr Stephen Oronsaye, at that time was operating 66 illegal accounts”.
He told the court how Mr Maina opened various accounts with Fidelity Bank ”in the name of his son, sisters and sister-in-law and other members of his family.”
The witness said the findings were also confirmed by a second prosecution witness, Toyin Meseke, who is a Fidelity Bank staffer.
He said Mr Maina ”had complete control over the several accounts, though his name, signature and photograph did not appear anywhere in the account opening packages.”
The witness said findings revealed that an account with Fidelity Bank ”in the name of Nafisatu Aliyu Yeldu’s bears the name of Mr Maina’s sister with her passport, photograph on the face of it”.
“She informed us (EFCC) that she remembers at one point that Toyin Meseke (PW2), who is a Fidelity Bank staff requested for her PHCN (power utility) bill but she wasn’t sure what he wanted it for and that was one of the documents that were used in opening the account. She also informed us that when she started receiving alerts, she contacted Toyin Meseke and he promised to deal with the issue.”
According to the witness, “the turnover in Yeldu’s account was over N300 million”.
The witness said there was another case involving Drew Construction, which had the name of his (Maina’s) other sister, Fatima Abdullahi Aliyu, with a turnover of about N55 million all from cash deposits within a few months.”
“When she was confronted, it showed that she did not know the account, even though it bore her name and other similar information that belonged to her. The witness said.
“We called for the statement of Drew Construction and of his Fidelity Bank, and discovered the same modus by Maina, concealing and stealing the identity of his family members, registering companies in their names, opening a corporate bank account without their knowledge.”
“We also discovered from Common Input, a company registered by Maina and his wife, using the details of his sister (PW2), taking advantage of his sister-in-law, Mairo Bashir (PW1), who deliberately allowed Maina to conceal his identity without doing the ‘Know Your Customer’ and allowing him to operate the accounts as Fatima Abdullahi. When Fatima was invited, we confronted her that her BVN was linked to Common Input and Kongolo Dynamic Cleaning Services Ltd and she confirmed that she did not know about the existence of the company and that Maina requested her to give her BVN so that she will be removed as a signatory from the company and she wasn’t aware of being a signatory of any company but innocently gave them the BVN, believing that will make her stop being a signatory of the said company.”
Mr Abang, subsequently, adjourned the matter till December 3.
384 Stranded Nigerians Stranded in UAE, Saudi Arabia Return
A total of 384 Nigerians stranded in Saudi Arabia on Thursday arrived at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
The returnees arrived via Air flight B773 at about 1:10 pm local time.
They include 300 males, 80 females, and one infant.
A representative of the minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Bolaji received the returnees at the Hajj Terminal where he charged them not to despair.
He however, said the Nigerian government does not support illegal migration.
Lekki Shooting: FG Full of Denials, Cover-ups, Says Amnesty International
Nigerian authorities have failed to bring to justice those suspected to be responsible for the brutal crackdown by security forces on peaceful #EndSARS protesters at Lekki toll gate and Alausa in Lagos in October 2020 and have brazenly attempted to cover up the violence, said Amnesty International Nigeria today, 100 days on from the attacks.
Since the assault by security forces, which killed at least 12 people, Nigerian authorities have targeted supporters of the protests against police brutality by the disbanded Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) Some of the movement’s supporters have had their bank accounts frozen.
“The bloody events of 20 October 2020, when Nigerian security forces killed at least 12 people during the violent dispersal of peaceful #EndSARS protesters at Lekki and Alausa, have cast a shadow over Nigerian society that lingers to this day,” said Osai Ojigho, Director of Amnesty International Nigeria.
“Instead of bringing suspected perpetrators to justice and prioritizing genuine police reforms, Nigerian authorities have been abusing their powers by subjecting those who supported the protests to intimidation, harassment and smear campaigns.”
Reports from across Nigeria indicate that police violence is still widespread despite government promises of change.
Amnesty International is concerned that the Nigerian authorities will continue their current ban on protests and reminds the government of its obligations under the Nigerian Constitution of 1999 (as amended) and international human rights treaties to – which the country is a state party – to allow those who gather peacefully to express their views without fear of arrest or intimidation.
International human rights law also requires the Nigerian authorities to carry out prompt, thorough, independent, impartial and effective investigations into violations of human rights of the protesters including the right to life, such as those committed at Lekki and Alausa, as well as in other parts of the country, and to identify and bring suspected perpetrators to justice in fair trials.
“Those suspected to be responsible for the killings should be brought to justice in accordance with international fair trial standards,” said Osai Ojigho.
Amnesty International is calling on the Nigerian government to suspend accused officials, pending investigations, and to ensure that victims access justice and effective remedies.
The Nigerian government has set up a panel of inquiry in Lagos State to investigate complaints against SARS and the incidents at Lekki and Alausa on 20 October 2020. However, government officials and the military continue to deny that anybody was killed during the protests while restating their resolve to punish leaders of the #EndSARS movement against police violence.
Investigations by Amnesty International indicate that since the #EndSARS protests were violently dispersed several of the movement’s leaders have been arrested, tortured and their bank accounts frozen. Many others have fled into exile.
22 More Deaths, 1,861 New Infections As COVID-19 Worsens in Nigeria
Nigeria recorded its second highest daily death toll from COVID-19, on Wednesday, suggesting the country has yet to reach the peak of the second wave, as infections continue to spread rapidly.
A total of 22 people died from COVID-19 on Wednesday to bring to 1,544, the total number of people who have now died from the disease in the country.
Nigeria also recorded its second highest daily infection tally with 1,861 new cases reported on Wednesday, according to the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
The 1,861 new cases, a sharp increase from the 1,303 infections recorded on Tuesday, raised the total number of infections in the country to 126,160.
Exactly a week ago, Nigeria recorded 1,964 new cases, the county’s highest daily figure ever.
Last week was one of the worst in Nigeria’s COVID-19 pandemic era.
A review of data provided by the NCDC, 11,659 persons tested positive for the virus last week (January 17- 23), which is 18 per cent higher than the previous week’s record of 9,880.
The direct adverse effect of the spike in infections has been more deaths.
In the previous 24 hours, before the latest update 15 people died from the disease.
Nigeria, about two weeks ago, recorded the deadliest day thus far in the global coronavirus pandemic, with 23 deaths under 24 hours.
Last week, Nigeria reported 82 deaths, which represents a 14 per cent increase from the previous week’s record.
Health authorities attributed the rising death toll to late referrals of COVID-19 patients to treatment centres.
Of the over 126,000 new cases, a total of 100,365 patients have recovered across the country.
Meanwhile, there are over 20,000 patients still receiving treatments in isolation centres.
The 1,861 new cases were reported from 22 states – Lagos (773), FCT (285), Oyo (138), Rivers (111), Plateau (92), Nasarawa (83), Kaduna (59), Enugu (57), Imo (57), Edo (43), Kano (27), Kwara (20), Ebonyi (19), Abia (17), Ogun (12), Osun (12), Katsina (8), Bayelsa (6), Bauchi (5), Delta (5), Borno (4), Jigawa (4), and Zamfara (1).
Lagos, Nigeria’s COVID-19 epicentre, led with 773 new cases followed by Abuja, the second most impacted city, with 285 new infections.
Nigerian authorities a few days ago said the COVID-19 vaccines expected this month will no longer arrive until February.