Eniola Akinkuotu, Abuja
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, on Tuesday, arraigned a federal civil servant, Esther Onukaogu, for allegedly manipulating the Integrated Personnel and Payroll Information System, one of the systems through which the Federal Government pays salaries.
Esther allegedly added the names of two of her siblings, Ebenuwa Chinazo and Onukaogu Joshua, to IPPIS when she was working with a consulting firm.
The PUNCH had exclusively reported on January 23, 2017, that as part of investigations into the N143bn ‘ghost workers’ scam, the EFCC had uncovered some infractions in IPPIS.
The EFCC on Tuesday arraigned Esther and her siblings before Justice A. S. Adepoju of the FCT High court sitting in Wuse, Abuja, on 13 counts of conspiracy and obtaining money by false pretences.
The commission said between 2012 and 2013, Esther input her name and two of her siblings (Jennifer and Joshua) into the IPPIS database as staff of Federal Ministry of Education and Federal Ministry of Works respectively, for the purpose of receiving salaries from the Federal Government.
Esther and her co-defendants were said to have drawn salaries as ‘ghost workers’ from their ‘respective ministries’ for three years to the tune of N9m before the law caught up with them.
The offence breaches Section 1 (1) (a) and is punishable under Section 1 (3) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act, No. 14, 2006.
One of the charges read in part, “That you Onukaogu Onyinyechi Esther and Onukaogu Joshua between January 2014 and December 2014, at Abuja, within the jurisdiction of this honourable court, with the intention to defraud, obtained the sum of N1,860,865.72 from the Federal Government of Nigeria, under the false pretences that Onukaogu Joshua is a civil servant working in the Federal Ministry of Education, which pretence you knew to be false.”
The defendants pleaded not guilty to the charge.
In view of their pleas, counsel for the EFCC, Elizabeth Alabi, urged the court to fix a date for trial and to remand the suspects in prison custody.
But the defence counsel, M. M. Hirse, informed the court that he had pending applications for the bail of the defendants.
Alabi, however, urged the court to refuse the application, adding that the accused persons “were once granted bail and they jumped it.”
However, Justice Adepoju opined that “the purpose of bail is to secure the attendance of the defendants in court. It is their constitutional right to be granted bail”.
The judge, therefore, granted each of the defendants bail in the sum of N5m with one surety each in like sum. The sureties must be civil servants not below salary grade level 10.
The matter was adjourned till September 21, 2017 for hearing.
Meanwhile, the defendants are to be remanded in EFCC custody pending the perfection of their bail conditions.
The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu, had revealed last December that the Efficiency Unit of the Federal Ministry of Finance created by the present administration was able to uncover 50,000 ghost workers and saved the nation of N13bn monthly during the year.
According to the Presidential Initiative on Continuous Auditing on the nominal roll, 23, 846 ghost workers were discovered in Ministries, Departments and Agencies which do not fall under IPPIS while 522 were discovered in the Police Pensioners covered by Pension Transitional Arrangement Directorate.
About 18,330 ghost pensioners were identified in the military pension scheme while 396 were discovered in MDAs which fall under IPPIS.
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