Adeyemi Ikuforiji, a former speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, asserted before the Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday that the basis for his trial was an anonymous petition.
Ikuforiji gave evidence in his case against money laundering. The EFCC (Economic and Financial Crimes Commission) filed the accusation against him.
Before Justice Mohammed Liman, the EFCC filed charges against him and his former personal assistant, Oyebode Atoyebi.
There are 54 counts against the defendants.
However, they entered a not guilty plea and were permitted to go free on the bail that had been set in place when they had first been charged in 2012.
The EFCC closed its case on March 17, 2021, after calling its second and final witness, Mr Adewale Olatunji, a former Clerk of the Lagos House of Assembly.
On Thursday, Mr Ekene Iheanacho announced appearance for EFCC while Mr Dele Adesina (SAN) appeared for defence.
Led in evidence by Adesina, Ikuforiji said, “It is a pity that I am standing here based on this allegation.”
The defendant told the court that his trial stemmed from a petition by an unknown person alleging that he stole about seven billion Naira from Lagos State House of Assembly.
He said that it was based on the allegation that EFCC began an investigation into the case, adding that the commission’s operatives came to his house.
The defendant told the court that the operatives found nothing incriminating in his house.
He said that he was surprised that he was still being tried based on the petition.
At this juncture, defence counsel called for the petition which was already tendered before the court as an exhibit.
Ikufiriji told the court that he had read through the petition and there was no allegation of money laundering.
Defence counsel then requested for Ikuforiji’s response to the petition, and the defendant confirmed it as his reply, saying that his response also showed that there was no allegation of money laundering in the petition.
He told the court that he was investigated for alleged misappropriation, but was charged with money laundering.
When asked by defence counsel what he thought was the reason for his alleged `victimisation’, he said, “The house is a place where the head is always at a risk.
“He can go out as the head, but return as a nobody.”
The defendant told the court that if truly there were any founded allegations against him, the Assembly, which he led would have first tackled him.
He added: “It is now I know that I have a lot of enemies”.
On whether he played any role in disbursing funds to members of the house, he replied that it was not his duty to do.
“When memos were raised, if I found them worthy, I gave approval,” he told the court.
When asked if he collected any cash as speaker, the defendant responded, “Whatever funds that came in, were for the office of the speaker and not to me personally.
“It was not my duty to regulate payments; when the clerk submitted memos to me, if I found them worthy, I approved,” he testified.
He also told the court that the second defendant collected money on behalf of the office of the speaker, adding that, at that time, the office had about 110 members of staff.
Under cross-examination by EFCC counsel, the defendant told the court that he served as the Speaker of Lagos State House of Assembly from 2005 to 2015.
When asked if part of the duties of the second defendant was to collect his (speaker’s) allowances, he answered, “Yes, for the office of the speaker.”
When the prosecution counsel referred the defendant to a portion of his statement where he had said that the second defendant collected money for him, Ikuforiji said that it was his second statement.
He told the court that the commission had asked him to make the second statement after its operatives had gone to his house for investigation.
Earlier, the first defence witness, Mr Ibisola Oganyemi, a former Deputy Clerk of the assembly, told the court that he worked with the Lagos House of Assembly from 1999 and retired in 2013.
He identified the defendant as the speaker during the period he served as deputy clerk.
He also testified how cheques were raised and the modalities adopted by banks in bringing money to the house.
He testified that, for funds to be released, there must be a need for them following which a memo would be raised and approval made.
“The funds are brought by the bank to the treasury, while disbursement is supervised.”
Under cross-examination, he told the court that he did not work in the accounts department, but said that disbursement of the funds was done at the house.
The second defence, Mr Kayode Moturayo, a former Branch Manager of First Bank in Oyo State, who was called as an expert, testified how funds were disbursed to the Oyo State House of Assembly.
He had told the court that funds were not usually paid to house members in cash across the counter, but taken to the house after it had been arranged in the mode of disbursement.
Under cross-examination, prosecution counsel asked the witness if he worked with any of the banks used by Lagos State House of Assembly, and he replied in the negative.
During re-examination, defence counsel asked the witness, if bank operations were the same with regard to his testimony, but the prosecutor raised an objection, saying that such a question should not come under re examination.
The court then urged defence counsel to follow the line of re examination as provided by law.
In response to the question by defence counsel, the witness told the court that banks operated the same way.
The court has adjourned the case until June 1 for address on the admissibility of a documentary evidence tendered from the bar by defence.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the defendants were first arraigned on March 1, 2012, before Justice Okechukwu Okeke on a 20-count charge bordering on misappropriation and money laundering.
They pleaded not guilty and were granted bail.
The defendants were, however, re-arraigned before Justice Ibrahim Buba, following a re-assignment of the case.
Buba had granted them bail in the sum of N500 million each with sureties in like sum.
On Sept. 26, 2014, Buba discharged Ikuforiji and his aide of the charges, after upholding a no-case submission of the defendants.
Buba had held that EFCC failed to establish a prima-facie case against them.
Dissatisfied with the ruling, EFCC through its counsel, Mr Godwin Obla (SAN), filed the notice of appeal dated Sept. 30, 2014, challenging Buba’s decision.
Obla had argued that the trial court erred in law when it held that the counts were incompetent because they were filed under Section 1(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004, which was repealed by an Act of 2011.
EFCC further argued that the lower court erred in law when it held that the provisions of Section 1 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004 and 2011, only applied to natural persons and corporate bodies other than the government.
In its judgement, the Lagos Division of the Appeal Court, in November 2016, agreed with the prosecution and ordered a fresh trial of the defendants before another judge.
Following the decision of the Appeal Court, the defendants headed for the Supreme Court, seeking to upturn the ruling of the Appeal Court.
In its verdict, the apex court upheld the decision of the Court of Appeal and ordered that the case be sent back to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for reassignment.
EFCC alleged in the charge that the defendants accepted cash payments above the threshold set by the Money Laundering Act, without going through a financial institution.
The commission also accused the defendants of conspiring to accept cash payments in the aggregate sum of N338.8 million from the House of Assembly without going through a financial institution.
Ikuforiji was also accused of using his position to misappropriate funds belonging to the Assembly.
The EFCC said that the defendants committed the offences between April 2010 and July 2011.
The offences, according to the EFCC, contravene the provisions of Sections 15 (1d), 16(1d) and 18 of Money Laundering Act, 2004 and 2011. (NAN)
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