By Alex Enumah in Abuja
A star prosecution witness, Seidu Mohammed, in the ongoing trial of a United Kingdom-based Professor of Neurology, Reuben Oluwakinmilehin Obaro, and his wife, Mrs Ayodele Olubunmi Obaro, a nurse in the UK, has admitted not having any interface with relevant government officials before initiating criminal charges against the defendants.
Obaro and his wife are standing trial on allegations of fraud preferred against them by the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC).
They are being accused of misappropriating the sum N233.6m being part of N450m obtained as seed grant from the Subsidy Reinvestment Empowerment Programme (SURE-P).
The ICPC is also accusing the defendants of misleading its officers, frustrating investigation and misappropriating funds meant for the establishment of a stroke centre in Nigeria being funded partly by the defunct SURE-P and personal money of the Professor and his wife.
At the resumed trial before Justice A.O Ebong, the witness, an investigator with the ICPC, under cross-examination, told the court that he knew former Chairman of SURE-P, Christopher Kolade.
But, when asked by counsel to the defendants, John Nnaemeka Egwuonwu SAN, if he had any interface with him during the course of his investigation of the defendants, he said he did not, adding that he did not also interview Kolade’s successors.
He said, “We did not interface with Dr. Christopher Kolade in the course of our investigation
“We did not also interface with Dr. Martins Luther Agwai”, the successor of Dr. Christopher Kolade.
Similarly, the witness disclosed that his team did not interface with Mr. Ishaya Akan, the last SURE-P Chairman before it was dissolved.
While he told the court that SURE-P then was under the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), he disclosed that the commission only wrote a letter to the SGF relating to the defendants, but did not obtain any statement.
Seidu also admitted not obtaining any statement from the Federal Ministry of Health, which authorised the release of the fund in question before charging the defendants to court.
He also stated that he could not tell if the project was an ongoing one, adding that their mandate was to mop up all funds and project following the winding up of SURE-P.
“I did not find out from SURE-P the type of building to be built. I did not find out its cost and I did not find out the time line for the building to be completed”, he said.
On the proposed land for the construction of the center, the witness said the commission did not engage a private firm for the evaluation but rather depended on the Federal Capital Development Authority (FCDA), whom he said allocates land in the FCT.
While a total sum of N450million was released by SURE-P for the project, the court heard that the defendants had so far spent over N300million additional personal money on the project.
According to the ICPC, the actions of the husband and wife violated Sections 25 (1) (a), 15 and 16 of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000 and were punishable under the same sections.
Professor Obaro and his wife had proposed to SURE-P the establishment of a specialised stroke centre for the management of the rising incidence of stroke among Nigerians to be run by them for the government.
Tthe defendants used their company, Stephen James Healthcare Limited, to access a seed grant of N450 million in January 2015, from SURE-P for the construction and purchase of medical equipment for the centre to be known as Stephen James Stroke Centre for Excellence.
The case has been adjourned to July 5th and 9th, 2018 for further cross-examination of the witness.