A former Director General of the National Biotechnology Development Agency, NABDA, Professor Lucy Ogbadu and nine other officials, including the Bayelsa State’s Director of the Agency, Josiah Bitrus Habu, were arraigned by the Economic And Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, Port Harcourt’s Office. They were arraigned before Justice A.O. Awogboro of the Federal High Court sitting in Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.
Other suspects docked were Beatrice Alphine Ogoh; Habu Esther Josiah; Alphine Ogoh; Ebinbin Ajagun; Gloria Ishaya; Yerima Joseph Ephraim, Nathan Danladi and Prof. Godwin Haruna Ogbadu. Three companies docked alongside the suspects are: Jiniya Nig. Limited, Garkuwa Jobs Enterprises and Alton Integrated Services Limited,
They were arraigned on a 49- count charge bordering on conspiracy, diversion of funds, money laundering and obtaining under false pretence to the tune of N573, 969,742.27 ( Five Hundred and Seventy Three Million, Nine Hundred and Sixty Nine Thousand, Seven Hundred and Forty Two Naira, Twenty Seven Kobo) only.
Troubles came for the suspects when a petitioner alleged that the 2nd defendant, Josiah Bitrus Habu who is the Director and Chief Accounting Officer, Bioresources Development Centre, Odi, Bayelsa State, diverted N25, 000, 0000 (Twenty Five Million Naira) belonging to the Agency for his personal use. Habu allegedly claimed the money was used for the acquisition of land for the construction of Empowerment Training Hall in Odi, a hall that had been allegedly built and commissioned previously by the Hon. Minister of Science and Technology.
Habu also allegedly embezzled N11, 000,000 (Eleven Million Naira) through sand filling, soil compartment and pre-treatment of the empowerment training hall and allegedly diverted N39,000,000.00 (Thirty- Nine Million Naira) only through the foundation laying and structural works on the training hall.
He also allegedly committed payroll fraud by inserting fictitious names on staff nominal roll and use funds paid to such fake staff for his personal benefits. The petitioner further alleged that Habu conspired with the former Director General, Ogbadu and awarded both consultancy and projects to themselves using one Mr. Ajagun as an intermediary.
Count one of the charge reads: “That you, Josiah Bitrus Habu, while being the Director of Bioresources Development Centre (BIODEC), Odi, Alphine Ogoh, Habu Esther Josiah, Alton Integrated Services Limited, Ebinbin Ajagun, Nathan Danladi, Jiniya Nig. Limited, Yerima Joseph Ephraim, Gloria Ishaya, and Garkuwa Jobs Enterprises, between 2013 to 2016 within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court did conspire amongst yourselves to commit an offence to wit; laundering of funds belonging to the Federal Government of Nigeria and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011as amended and punishable under Section 15 (3) of the same Act.
Another count read: “That you Josiah Bitrus Habu while being the Director of Bio resources Development Centre (BIODEC), Odi, Habu Esther Josiah and Garkuwa Jobs Enterprises sometimes in January 2015 within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court did convert the sum of N43,800,000.00 property of the Federal Government of Nigeria which you all claimed under the disguise that the said sum was for refund of payment of salary when you all reasonably ought to have known that the said fund formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful activity, to wit: Stealing and corruption, and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 15(2) (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011as amended and punishable under Section 15 (3) of the same Act”.
The defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges when they were read to them.
In view of their pleas, prosecution counsel, Ifeanyi Agwu, asked for a date to commence trial and prayed the court for an accelerated hearing.
However, counsel to the 1st and 10th defendants, B. O Okowo, SAN, told the court that he had filed a bail application for his clients. He said the alleged offences were bailable and that the defendants were earlier placed on administrative bail by the prosecution and urged the court to grant his prayers. D. D Fiderikumo, counsel to the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 11th, 12th and 13th defendant, made same prayers.
Justice Awogboro granted the defendants bail in the sum of N2, 000,000.00 (Two million Naira) each, with one surety in like sum. The surety must be a civil servant not below grade level 13, the surety must deposit his letter of appointment, promotion letter and Identity Card to the Court Registry, the surety must be resident within the jurisdiction of the court and the prosecution should verify the residence of the surety.
The Judge also ordered that the defendants be remanded in prison custody pending the perfection of their bail. The case was adjourned to 29 January, 2019 for trial.