A Federal High Court Lagos on Tuesday, heard that children of a former acting Director General of NIMASA, Haruna Jauro, were invited to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). A subpoenaed witness, Mr. Peter Achuneni, who is a lawyer, gave the evidence at the resumed trial-within-trial of Jauro. Jauro assumed leadership of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), after an erstwhile Director General, Patrick Akpobolokemi.
He is charged by the EFCC, alongside Dauda Bawa and Thlumbau Enterprises Ltd on 19 counts bordering on offence bordering on N304.1 million fraud. They were arraigned on April 12, 2016 and had pleaded not guilty to the charges.
The court had admitted them to bail in the sum of N5 million each with two sureties each in like sum. During trial in February, the prosecutor Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo had called its first witness, Mr. Orji Chukwuma, who had testified how several sums of monies were allegedly converted by the accused.
Oyedepo had then sought to tender a written statement of the accused as evidence in court, but his moved was opposed by defence counsel, Mr. Olalekan Ojo, who argued that the said statements were not voluntarily obtained. Ojo had urged the court to order a trial-within-trial, to determine if the statements were voluntarily obtained by the commission.
The trial judge, Justice Mojisola Olatoregun had consequently, ordered a trial-within-trial. On Tuesday, defence counsel, Ojo called on the subpoenaed witness, Achuneni, who told the court that he represented the first accused (Jauro) at the EFCC during investigations.
Led in examination in chief by Ojo, the witness told the court that there at the commission, he introduced himself to an operative of the EFCC, Mr. Chukwuma Orji, who later detailed one of his subordinates to take the first accused to a table for interrogation.
According to the witness, an asset declaration form was also given to the accused to fill, adding that as lawyer to the accused, he attempted severally to approach the accused at the table, but he was asked to return back to the gallery where he visitors were seated.
The witness told the court that following a look of disappointment on the face of the accused, (his client at that time), he again attempted for the second and third time to approach the table where he was been interrogated.
He said that following his persistent attempt, the EFCC operative Orji, warned him again to go away or risk being joined alongside the accused. He said that eventually, Orji then asked him to endorse the statement of the accused, stating that he was present when it was taken and that all went well.
According to him, contrary to what Orji expected, he wrote all that he knew, stating that he was not given access to his client.
The witness told the court that this further angered Orji, who then told him that he was getting too involved in the case and would go in with his client, adding that he was then informed that he was under arrest for obstructing the cause of justice.
The witness said that he engaged in arguments with Orji and there was so much tension and noise in the environment which lasted for a while but was eventually calmed following the intervention of the prosecutor, (Oyedepo). According to him, the whole situation put the accused under tension as he was sweating profusely and appeared so confused especially as he was not allowed access to his lawyer.
The witness then told the court that EFCC operatives promised to make things difficult for the accused and even invite his children, if he did not cooperate with them.
According to him, the children of the accused were eventually invited to the commission the following day, including his six years old, child who had no knowledge of anything.
He told the court that he reported at the commission for about six days, and equally went along with the children when they were invited, adding that interrogation lasted for between 10 to 11 hours.
The witness also retorted; “I was also at the commission the next day, but because I did not want any further problem with the operatives, I stayed back at the gallery.”
During cross examination, the prosecutor, (Oyedepo) asked the witness if he knew the purport of the provisions of sections 17 (2) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act 2015, but the witness replied “God forbid that a lawyer should know all the law”.
Reading out the provisions of the Act, the prosecutor drew the attention of the witness to the law which forbids a legal practitioner from interfering with the suspect when his statement is being taken.
He then asked the witness if he is aware of the provisions of the law; the witness responded in the affirmative.
Furthermore, the prosecutor, asked the witness, “if there are contradictions in your evidence and those of Mr. Dankuku Galadima who had earlier testified, which should the court believe?
The witness replied, “I think the court should listen to mine because Mr. Galadima was not present most of the time. Oyedepo posed this question, “So is it correct to say that you were not present when the accused was purportedly promised to be used as a prosecution witness? Achuneni replied, “No, I was not present, but the accused told me he was promised to be made a prosecution witness.”
The court will resume trial on April 5 The EFCC accused Jauro and others of conspiring among themselves to defraud NIMASA to the tune of N304.1m between January 2014 and September 2015.
The anti-graft agency alleged that the accused converted the sums to their private use, an offence which it said contravened the provisions of section 15(1) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012.