Alex Enumah in Abujai
The Federal High Court in Abuja Tuesday admitted in evidence documents showing payments made to contractors allegedly working for former Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh.
The documents, which were admitted as exhibit B6 and B7 respectively, formed part of testimony of the sixth prosecution witness, Air Commodore Mohammed Sinni, Director of Finance and Accounts (DFA), at the Camp 101 headquarters of the Nigeria Air Force.
At the resumed trial yesterday, Sinni led in evidence by prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), gave accounts of his stewardship at air force headquarters when he was Camp Finance Officer (CFO).
The witness told the court how on the instruction of then DFA, Air Commodore Yushau, he made transfers to Rytebuilders and Havoc Nigeria Limited owned by Mustapha Yerima.
“In 2012, I was posted to Camp NAF, as the CFO. My schedule involved payment of salaries, operations and miscellaneous, disbursement of funds with operations and overhead expenditure of the unit.
“I took over from Group Captain Ifeobu; when I reported, he told me that a certain part, a figure that I can remember, N558, 200, 000, he specifically told me that it is meant for the official administrative maintenance of the office of the chief of air staff and that I am to be reporting to DFA on the details of disbursement,” he said.
The witness also told the court that there were instances he took dollars to Air House on the orders of Yushau. “We met him (Yushau) there at the Air House and handed over dollars to him. After that, he entered the Air House to hand over the money to the chief of air staff,” he stated, adding that “I can’t remember the details of money transferred to Rytebuilders.”
The witness also told the court that he signs mandate for payment after it must have been prepared and signed by the cashier before they were taken to the bank for payment.
However, when Jacobs sought to tender the documents as evidence, Badeh’s counsel, Akin Olujimi (SAN), objected to its admissibility on the grounds that the said documents are public documents that must be paid for before they are admitted as evidence.
Relying on section 104 of the Evidence Act, Olujimi said the mere fact that a government department is making use of a public document which is certified does not exclude the department from paying appropriate fees for the document.
Relying further on section 104 (1) of the evidence Act, he said it is only a public officer who had custody of this document who can certify it, arguing that since the witness no longer has custody of the document, he is not in a position to certify it.
He said further that since the original documents were addressed to different banks, it is clear evidence that the original copy is not in the custody of the NAF let alone the camp office.
“So it is absolutely irregular and improper for the officer to certify the document because the CTC which the officer in custody is empowered to make shall be a true copy of the original. Nobody here knows unless he speculates what are in the original documents and wherever they are,” Olujimi said
He therefore urged the court to reject all the documents.
Similarly, counsel to the second defendant, Sam Olugun-Orisa (SAN), while adopting the submission of Olujimi, urged the court not to admit the documents, arguing that the appropriate party to certify the documents is the bank where the original went to, adding that the bank is the one with the custody.
Certification presupposes that you compare the copy with the original.
Responding, Jacobs urged the court to admit the documents, noting that all conditions required for their admissibility has been met.
He argued that it is not in all cases that fees must be paid, particularly if such documents are for official purposes and or emanate from the officer certifying it. “He is the one who wants to make use of the documents so he is not required to pay,” he said.
The trial judge, Justice Okon Abang, in his ruling, however, held that though the documents are public documents, they are documents that do not require payment of fees before admissibility.
The judge also held that there was no law prescribing fees for the documents to be obtained unlike that in the CAC case cited by the counsel to the first defendant.
He also held that it is sufficient that since the witness made the documents, he does not need to sign them.
Abang, while stating that he agrees with the defence that where a Supreme Court has interpreted a law, all other courts must abide by the ruling, said the issues conversed must be the same as the one cited. He held that the situation does not apply in the circumstances of this case.
The documents were therefore admitted as exhibits B6 and B7 respectively.
The matter was adjourned till today for continuation of trial.