Alex Enumah in Abuja
Rouqayya Ibrahim, a prosecution witness in the trial of the former Head of Service, Mr. , yesterday revealed before a Federal High Court sitting in Abuja how Oronsaye’s office operated 66 illegal accounts.
Ibrahim, an operative of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), made the revelation at the resumed trial of Oronsaye over alleged corrupt offences.
The EFCC had dragged the former Head of Service and four others before Justice Gabriel Kolawole of a Federal High Court, Abuja over an amended 35-count charge bordering on alleged corruption.
Others charged by the commission are: Cluster Logistics Limited, Kangolo Dynamic Cleaning Limited, and Drew Investment and Construction Company Limited. Osarenkhoe Afe is the managing director of Fredrick Hamilton Global Services Limited.
The witness who disclosed that she was drafted to be part of the team that investigated the pension fund said: “Sometime in 2010, EFCC and other anti-graft agencies were invited for the verification of pension in the civil service, during that time, my colleagues discovered a payment mandate for payment of pensioners bearing 32 names, which was suspicious to them and based on that, they requested for further information on the mandate and the statement of account from the office of the Head of Service.
“It was confirmed that some of the names on that list were fake pensioners. Based on that, EFCC instituted a pension fraud team to properly investigate activities of Head of Service in terms of Pension payment.
Speaking further, the witness said that the team wrote letters to all the existing banks at the time to furnish them with the statement of account of all the accounts operated by Head of Service for Pensioners and also, payment mandate.
“Based on their replies and letters written from the office of the Accountant General of the Federation, we discovered that the Head of Service was operating 66 illegal accounts. We also discovered that there were modus operandi used by the pension office to siphon pensions fund into their account.
“We discovered that about N14 billion has been stolen from the pension funds of the Head of Service.”
According to Ibrahim, other discoveries made by her team included how payments into accounts of different companies for illegal and non-existing contracts as well as the payment of non-existing pensioners.
The witness revealed further that payments to both the National Union of Pensioners and Association of Federal Civil Service Retirees were illegal.
“For example, National Union of Pensioners received over N2 billion from the pension account. The vast majority of the amount was withdrawn and handed over to one Shuaibu, who is presently standing trial in one of the courts.”
However, when the witness requested to use a chart in the court to explain the findings of the EFCC in the course of investigation of the alleged fraud in pension payments in Nigeria, lead counsel to Oronsaye, Kanu Agabi (SAN), objected on the grounds that the chart, as displayed, having photographs of the accused persons will not allow for fair trial.
He argued that: “the chart, having photographs of the accused persons will be prejudicial and will not allow for fair trial. When I saw the chart, I thought it was a document earlier frontloaded to us, but we just noticed that we received it here in court. If it is a document they intend to use, they should serve it on us properly.”
Aligning themselves with the position of Agabi, counsel to the second and third defendants, Oluwole Aladoyele argued that the practise was strange to his team, adding that it does not conform to the provisions of the Evidence Act, relying on Section 239 of the Act.
He urged the court to disallow what he described as a strange procedure, further describing the information on the chart as the personal opinion of the prosecution witness.
However, prosecution counsel, Adebisi Adeniye argued that the opposition to the chart was misconceived.
“I submit that the opposition to the usage of the chat is misconceived. It is not a situation where we hope to tender the document in evidence. What the witness has said is that she has a chat with which she can demonstrate the investigation she carried out and her findings. Even under the evidence Act, this witness can refresh her memory.”
In his ruling, the presiding Judge, Justice Gabriel Kolawole upheld the arguments of the two defence counsels, disallowing the use of the demonstration chart.
‘‘If the chart will not be tendered as an exhibit, of what use is it? If I merely have to listen to the PW1’s explanations, of what use is it when the judgment will be written? If the use of the chart is merely to demonstrate how the fraud was perpetrated and not tendered as an exhibit, it will not be useful in judgment. I agree with the view of the counsel to the 2nd and 3rd defendants that the chart will be prejudicial.
“PW1 has not shown any sign of one with loss of memory. She appears to be clever and clearheaded. It is also important that the defendants are accorded fair hearing and fair trial. It is either the chart is tendered as an exhibit or is out rightly discarded. My decision is to disallow this, which the PW1 introduced by herself without guidance by the prosecution counsel. The chart is disallowed from being demonstrated to the court.‘‘
Similarly, an attempt made by the same prosecution counsel to pray the court to accept a statement made by the second defendant as an exhibit was also blocked by the defence counsel, who argued that the said statement made in the office of the EFCC was written under duress. He made a case for a ‘trial-within- trial’, a prayer that was granted by the presiding judge.
Delivering his ruling on the admissibility of the document, presiding judge, Justice Gabriel Kolawole said: ‘‘In view of the objection raised by the second and third defence counsel, and relying on sections 28 and 29 of the Evidence Act, we will take a mini procedure, a trial within trial.”
The matter was adjourned to June 21, 2016 for the ordered mini procedure.