Severally with Accused Facing Trial in His Court
Tobi Soniyi in Abuja
An Abuja High Court was on Tuesday told that the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Mr. Danladi Yakubu Umar, met several times in his chamber with a retired Deputy Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service (NCS), Mr. Rasheed Taiwo Owolabi, who was standing trial before him on false assets declaration charges.
A former personal assistant to the CCT Chairman, Mr. Ali Gambo Abdullahi, told the court while giving evidence in a trial within a trial on the disputed statement he made to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in respect of a N10 million bribe allegedly demanded by the CCT chairman from the accused person in order to strike out the charges against him.
The witness, who was cross-examined by the EFCC counsel, Mr. Andrew Akoja, told Justice Chizobia Oji that it was at the end of the last meeting the accused person had with the CCT chairman that the sum of N1.8 million was paid into his (Abdullahi’s) account by the ex-customs official.
However, contrary to the statement he made on August 12, 2013 that the N1.8 million was part payment of the N10 million bribe meant for the CCT chairman, the witness said the money was deposited into his Zenith Bank account by the accused person to offset the medical bill of his ailing father.
The witness further told the court that he never met with the former deputy comptroller-general of Customs until he started visiting the CCT chairman in the course of his trial and that the money was paid to him immediately after the last visit to his boss.
Confronted with the statement where he implicated the CCT chairman on the N10 million bribery saga, Abdullahi said that the statement he first made on the issue was done under duress and based on the inducement promised him by operatives of the EFCC who investigated the petition of the ex-Customs man in the matter.
Further cross-examined by the EFCC counsel, the witness, who read out some portions of the statement, identified his signature, admitted that he signed the statement and that he also signed an attestation confirming that his statement was made freely and voluntarily by him.
Earlier in his evidence-in-chief, Abdullahi had told the court that he was a protocol officer at the CCT when he was employed in 2009 and that he later became the personal assistant to the chairman.
He told the court that he got to know the former Customs officer during his numerous visits to his boss, revealing that during the last visit, the said Taiwo met him with sympathisers on the plight of his father and it was as a result of the plight of his father that prompted the payment of N1.8 million to cater for his father.
The witness said on August 12, 2013 he was invited to EFCC’s office in Abuja where he was confronted with a petition from the said Owolabi on the alleged N10 million bribe and that he made a statement on the same day and was allowed to go home on administrative bail but with a condition: to continue visiting EFCC twice a week pending the completion of the investigation.
He also informed the court that the following day, two directors from CCT followed him to the EFCC to perfect his bail condition and that in the course of his several visits to the commission, he made several statements in addition to that of Auguat 12, 2013.
The witness said that the additional statements where he exonerated the CCT chairman were the true reflection of what transpired on the N10 million bribe and not his first statement of August 12, where he implicated the CCT boss as the beneficiary of the N1.8 million bribe.
He denied that his other statements where he exonerated the CCT boss were after-thoughts, adding that he was made to implicate his boss under duress and promises of inducement.
The trial judge, Justice Chizobia Oji, adjourned the adoption of addresses in the matter to October 20, 2016.
Abdullahi is facing trial for allegedly giving false information, but his denial of his first statement on the bribery allegation prompted the trial within a trial by Justice Oji to determine his claim of duress before admitting the statement in evidence as exhibit. ThisDay