Some top officials of the Federal School of Medical Laboratory Technology (FSMLT), Jos, Plateau State, including its provost Dr. Nkereuwem Sunday Etukudo, have been arraigned before Justice Y. G. Dakwak of the Plateau State High Court sitting in Jos on a 15-count charge bordering on conspiracy and diversion of N359m.
They are being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC),
The accused persons including Dr. Etukudo; Yusuf Samuel (Accountant), Ernest Demtoe, (Secretary of Tenders Board); Goodluck Echewa and Esio Udoh, both contractors of FSMLT were arraigned last Wednesday.
The arraignment, however, was stalled after the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th defendants had pleaded not guilty to count one of the charges.
- D. Gwaisu, counsel to the fifth accused person (Udoh) raised an objection, saying that since his client, who is a contractor, was never employed by FSMLT, “there was no offence linking him to the charges of misappropriation of funds.”
Consequently, he prayed that the name of the fifth accused person be struck out from count one of the charge.
In his response, prosecution counsel, Samuel Okereke, urged the court to discountenance the application of the defence and call on the defendant to take his plea, describing it ‘‘as a misguided and utter misrepresentation of the law.’’
According to him, “Count 1 deals with criminal conspiracy and not misappropriation, as it relates to the accused. The defendant is accused under Section 96 (1a), which is punishable under Section 97 of the Penal Code. The 5th accused doesn’t need to be a staff to reach an agreement to do the illegal act. The defence counsel’s objection is hinged on proof, which is very different. We maintain that there is no ambiguity.”
Ruling on the matter, Justice Dakwak held that, “the charge is not ambiguous. It indicates an agreement between all accused to commit an illegal act. The objection raised is a matter of evidence. As such, the 5th defendant will take his plea.”
The 5th defendant pleaded not guilty when the charge was read to him.
Following the pleas of not guilty by the first, second, third and fourth defendants to the second count, Gwaisu raised yet another objection, urging the court to strike out the name of the fifth defendant from the charge.
He said, “The grounds for objection are the same as that of the first count: ambiguity. The charge is an internal affair of FSMLT, Jos. It is a defective charge and a case of mis-joinder. Additionally, the offence is prescribed by Section 289 of the Penal Code, which has to do with employees. The fifth accused is not an employee.”
However, Okereke also urged the court to discountenance the defence prayer, saying that, “the charge specifically mentioned theft. The accused doesn’t have to be a staff of the school to steal from it. There is a nexus between this charge and the defendant. More so, the 5th accused is listed in the charge as a contractor and is bound by a contract of service to the institution.’’
Justice Dakwak saw some merit in the argument of the defence and held that ‘‘the 5th defendant was not bound by a contract of service, and would not take a plea. Therefore, his name is struck out of the charge”.
Consequently, Justice Dakwak adjourned the matter to May 16, 2016 for conclusion of the arraignment and ruling on all pending applications.