A prosecution witness yesterday told the Federal High Court in Lagos how three aircraft flew N1.2billion from Lagos to Ekiti State for delivery to former Governor Ayo Fayose.
Danmola Otuyena, a banker, was testifying in Fayose’s trial for allegedly receiving and keeping N1.2billion and $5million said to have been stolen from the Office of the National Security Adviser (ONSA), contrary to the Money Laundering Act.
Otuyena, who headed his bank’s Cash in Transit Services Unit when the transaction occurred, said he accompanied the bullion van that took the cash to the airport.
He was the fourth prosecution witness and was led in evidence by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) lawyer, Mr Rotimi Jacobs (SAN).
The witness gave evidence on the bank account of Sylvan Mcnamara Limited and how cash was withdrawn from it on the instructions of former Minister of Defence (State) Musiliu Obanikoro on June 16 and 17, 2014.
The witness also revealed that although Obanikoro operated the account and was the known holder, he was not the official signatory to it nor was he a director to the company in whose name the account was opened.
Otuyena said he got instructions from his boss to get the cash ready for movement to Ekiti.
“My director gave further instructions that we should move the cash to the airport. We contacted the cash in transit company that renders bullion services – Bankers Warehouse Ltd – and the cash was moved to the private wing of Murtala Mohammed Airport.
“We could not get access when we got there, so we waited outside. My director said someone would be there to attend to us.
“He spoke to a certain Gbolahan Obanikoro through my phone. He helped to process a pass and we were able to enter the airport – the bullion van and me.
“Later, Musiliu Obanikoro came. My boss called me and spoke to him through my phone and said we should give him the cash. The cash was given to him.
“We loaded the bags of cash into the aircraft. About two or three aircraft were used to load the cash.
“My director, Premier Oyiwo, having identified Obanikoro, said I should release the cash to him. When we pay cash to beneficiaries, they sign off for collection. Obanikoro signed off for collection,” the witness said.
Asked how the cash was packed, Otuyena said: “We have bags designed in a standard way in the banking industry. We used them to package the money. We call them jumbo bags. We used the biggest sizes to pack the money. We used jumbo bags for the N1.2billion.”
Otuyena said he also got a call from his boss on June 17, 2014, to pay N200million to Malik Bauchi from the same account operated by Obanikoro.
He said he was asked to waive the identification process.
“But we contacted the account holder. Rather than pay Bauchi, the amount was paid to the account holder. We used Ghana Must Go bags for the N200million,” the witness said.
Under cross examination by defence counsel Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN) and Mr Olalekan Ojo (SAN), the witness said there was an initial instruction that the N1.2billion be paid to six persons, but that they were not available to collect the cash before it was given to Obanikoro.
He insisted that Obanikoro was the account holder and ran the company account even though his name was not stated in the account opening documents that he was the sole signatory.
The witness read a board resolution appointing Olalekan Ogunseye as the sole signatory to the account.
“I’ve not come across any other resolution appointing another signatory to the account or Obanikoro as the signatory,” he said.
Ojo asked the witness if there was evidence that Obanikoro personally withdrew the cash from the bank in view of the fact that there was no instruction to that effect in his name.
The witness said: “The narration we have in the bank statement is fund transfer. There was no entry that Obanikoro received the N1.2billion.”
On why that is so, the witness explained: “The instruction to release the cash first went to the Treasury Department, which debited Sylvan Mcnamara’s account and moved the cash to a transit account. So the entry is a default narration for the debit.”
The witness said Obanikoro was not a director to the company, and that he did not know what happened to the cash after he handed it over to the former minister.
Three other witnesses testified earlier for the prosecution: Zonal Heads, Southwest 1 and 2 of a new generation bank, Lawrance Akande and Abiodun Oshodi, and the Head of Financial Operations of another new generation bank, Olaitan Fajuyitan.
Akande said he was informed that money would be brought from the Akure airport to be paid into the accounts of Spotless Nigeria Limited (Fayose’s company and co-accused) and De Privateer Limited.
He said Fayose’s associate Abiodun Agbele called him in June 2014, saying he had a lodgment of N1.2billion to make. He said he also got a call from Fayose to that effect.
Akande said he asked Oshodi to follow the transaction, adding that they had solicited for deposits from Fayose.
“I had no reason to regard the funds as proceeds of crime. I didn’t observe any anomalies in the operation of the accounts,” he said under cross-examination.
Oshodi testified that he got a bullion van that took the money from Akure airport to the bank for lodgment.
“Biodun Agbele came with a security escort, including police and soldiers, and we went to the Akure airport with the branch manager and the bullion van.
“We moved the bullion van close to the plane, and then evacuated the cash. The former minister was there also.
“Agbele supplied the accounts where the money would be lodged – De Privateer, Spotless and the personal account of Fayose,” he said.
The witness also narrated how the cash was deposited. For instance, he said a driver, Taofik, came to the bank 21 times to make some cash deposits in one day.
He said Taofik deposited N9.9million 10 times, N9.5million 10 times, and N5.5million once. Other deposits were also made at various dates, he said.
“Taufik happens to be the driver of Abiodun Agbele. The teller was filled by our former cash officer. Taufik couldn’t write,” he said.
Oshodi testified that the deposits were normal and that he associated with Agbele because he considered him a man of good character.
“I didn’t know the source of the money. I was glad to receive the money. Until I was called by the EFCC, I didn’t find any anomaly with the money,” he said under cross-examination.
Oshodi said Fayose also did not personally visit the bank to make any lodgments.
Fajuyitan said he received instruction to make the N1.2billion available, as well as the N200million, which he moved into a transit account
He said since the money came from the ONSA account with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), it must be legitimate.
“My bank will not knowingly receive proceeds of crime. The bank does not regard the money as proceed of crime,” the witness said.
Fayose had pleaded not guilty when he was arraigned on an 11-count charge.
He was charged with his company, Spotless Limited.
EFCC said Fayose and Agbele, who is facing a different charge, allegedly took possession of N1, 219, 000, 000 on June 17, 2014, to fund the former governor’s 2014 gubernatorial campaign.
The commission said Fayose “reasonably ought to have known” that the money “formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful act, to wit: criminal breach of trust/stealing.”
The alleged offence is contrary to Section 15 (2) (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended) and punishable under Section 15 (3) and (4).
EFCC said Fayose, on the same day, received the cash payment of $5million from Obanikoro, without going through a financial institution, the sum having exceeded the amount authorised by law.
The alleged offence, EFCC said, contravenes Sections 1 and 16 (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2011.
The commission said Fayose benefitted from N4.65billion slush funds allocated by the ONSA under Col. Sambo Dasuki (rtd) during the Goodluck Jonathan administration.
EFCC listed Obanikoro as one of 22 witnesses who will testify in the trial.
Justice Mojisola Olatoregun adjourned until January 21 and 28 for the continuation of trial.
Court To Hear Suit Challenging Lagos Ban Of Motorcycles, Tricycles On Dec 15
The Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has fixed December 15 to hear a suit seeking the reversal of the ban placed by the Lagos State Government on the operations of commercial motorcycles and tricycles, popularly known as Okada and Keke Marwa.
A Lagos-based lawyer, Julius Ajibulu, who filed the suit said the ban on okada and keke Marwa, without a replacement or an alternative means of transportation, had subjected Lagosians to untold hardship and taken away the source of livelihood of the operators.
The lawyer claimed that the ban had led to massive unemployment and an escalation in the rate of crime and insecurity in the state due to loss of jobs.
He said the ban further violated his fundamental rights and those of other Lagosians under sections 33, 34, 36, 38, 41 and 42 of the 1999 Constitution.
Ajibulu is asking the court to order “the immediate resumption of commercial operations and activities of tricyles (Keke NAPEP/ Marwa) and motorcycles (okada) of 50cc-200cc capacity engine on the above stated highways and expressways through the aforesaid bridges in 15 local government and local development council areas of Lagos State.”
He is also seeking damages in the sum of N1bn as well as a public apology in newspapers.
The suit is the second lawsuit seeking the reversal of the Lagos State Government’s ban on okada and Keke Marwa.
Another lawyer, Olukoya Ogungbeje, had earlier filed a suit before the same court on the same issue.
In his suit before Justice Mohammed Liman, Ogungbeje is seeking a declaration that “the forceful impounding, seizure or confiscation of motorcycles and tricycles” by agents of the Lagos State Government amounted to an infringement on the right of residents to own property under sections 43 and 44 of the Constitution.”
The Lagos State Government had in February proscribed both motorcycles and tricycles in six local governments and nine local council development areas of the state.
In a statement issued on January, the Commissioner for Information and Strategy, Mr Gbenga Omotosho, said that the riders must not ply 10 major highways and 40 bridges and flyovers across the state.
36 State Governments Take FG To Supreme Court Over Court Funding
The 36 states of the Federation on Monday took the Federal Government to the Supreme Court, challenging the presidential executive order signed in May by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The states are seeking an order of the Supreme Court to quash President Buhari’s executive order on the funding of courts, which he signed on May 20.
According to the states, Buhari’s executive order no. 00-10 of 2020 transferred the Federal Government’s responsibility of funding both the capital and recurrent expenditures of the state High Courts, Sharia Courts of Appeal, and the Customary Courts of Appeal, to the state governments.
They are contending that the order is a clear violation of sections 6 and 8(3) of the 1999 constitution, which makes it the responsibility of the federal government to fund the listed courts.
The 36 states, while claiming that they had been funding the capital projects in the listed courts since 2009, are also asking the Supreme Court to order the Federal Government to make a refund to them.
The suit was filed for the states by nine Senior Advocates of Nigeria, led by a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Augustine Alegeh.
Attorney General of the Federation, Abubakar Malami was listed as the sole respondent in the suit.
Appeal Court Declines To Join Factional ANDP In Gov. Diri’s Appeal
A move by a factional group of the Advanced Nigerian Democratic Party (ANDP) to join in Governor Douye Diri’s appeal against the judgment of the Bayelsa State Governorship Election Petition Tribunal on Monday, suffered a setback as the Court of Appeal in Abuja dismissed their request for being incompetent and lacking in merit.
Governor Diri had, last month, approached the appellate court to set aside the majority judgment of the tribunal which nullified the November 16, 2019, Bayelsa governorship election that brought him to power.
The nullification was predicated on the petition of the candidate of the ANDP in the November 16 governorship poll, Mr Lucky King-George, against his exclusion from the poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
The majority decision had upheld his argument that he was unlawfully excluded from the poll and subsequently ordered INEC to conduct a fresh poll in the state within 90 days.
However, when the matter came up on Monday, a lawyer, Mr Dominic Anyiador, announced appearance for the factional group led by its Chairman, Mr James Femowei, and drew the court’s attention to their application seeking to be joined as an interested party in the appeal filed by Governor Diri.
The applicants, which include the ANDP’s National Vice-Chairman, South-east, Barnabas Nwanguma; National Publicity Secretary, Fortune Oyadonghan; National Director NGO/Volunteers, Fred Ikhaghu; and Director Admin/Records, Linda Nyam, claimed to be the authentic faction of the ANDP.
They told the appellate court that they were unaware of the petition filed by the party challenging Diri’s election at the tribunal.
The applicants disclosed that the party did not conduct any primary election or fielded candidates for the governorship election, hence, their adoption and endorsement of Diri and his deputy, Lawrence Ewhrudjakpo, as its preferred candidates in the election.
They also claimed that Charles Ogboli, the national chairman of the party, who filed the petition, was expelled in 2018.
“The 1st respondent (ANDP) as a political party endorsed and adopted his excellency Senator Douye Diri and his deputy Lawrence Erhujakpor as its gubernatorial candidates in the said November 16, 2019 gubernatorial election conducted by the 3rd (INEC) respondent in Bayelsa State,” the application stated.
“The judgment of the lower court nullifying the election of the governor of Bayelsa State came to the interested parties and other members of the 1st respondent as a rude shock reason being that they were/are not aware of any pending suit by the 1st respondent against the governor of Bayelsa State bordering on his election held on the November 16, 2019.
“It was later learnt by the interested parties/other members of the 1st respondent that it was the sacked and expelled national chairman of the 1st respondent barrister Charles Ogboli that instituted the petition at the tribunal against the governor of Bayelsa State purportedly on behalf of the 1st respondent and its members,” their lawyer told the appellate court.
But in a quick objection, the lawyer to the Ogboli-led ANDP, Mr Kehinde Ogunwumiju (SAN), urged the court to dismiss the application on the grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction to take the motion not being an election matter but inter-party affair.
He also said the applicants cannot be joined to the suit at the appeal stage because they were not parties at the tribunal.
Also, Ogunwumiju said the applicants had failed to seek the leave of court before filing their application.
In a short ruling, a three-man panel of Justices led by Stephen Adah dismissed the request for joinder.
Adah said the application is “irrelevant, prejudicial and waste of judicial time”.
The court also ordered the applicants to pay N200,000 to each of the appellants as well as the respondents in the suit.
The court then adjourned till September 23 for hearing of all pending motions in the appeal.
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