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N1.9B Scam: Court Cautions Accused Over Threat To Life

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SAN FRANCISCO, Dec 02, (THEWILL) - A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has cautioned all the officials of Kogi State Government involved in the N1.9 billion scam case instituted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, never to make any attempt on the life of either the prosecution witness or the prosecution counsel during and after the determination of the case.

Justice Donatus Okorowa handed down the caution at the resumed hearing of the case today when the prosecution counsel, Barrister Wahab Shittu, raised an objection to the oral application of S.I Ameh, SAN, counsel to the 1st and 2nd accused persons, seeking transfer of the case to Lokoja Division of the Federal High Court. Shittu, while opposing the application said that it would be too risky for the prosecution counsel and the witnesses to be going to Lokoja for the case as there are already threats to the lives of some witnesses in one of the cases involving one of the Kogi state functionaries. Six accused persons being prosecuted by the EFCC are: Hon. Tolorunjuwon Joseph Faniyi, Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs over alleged of N536 million scam; Hon. Obaro Victor Kayode, former Executive Chairman, Yagba East Local Government Council accused of looting N476 million; Stephen Ropo Asala, former executive Chairman, Yagba West Local Government Council, Kogi State over alleged of N424 million fraud Others are Enesi Jimoh Suleiman, former caretaker chairman, Adavi Local Government Area of Kogi state accused of embezzling N250 million; Hon. Samuel Abiodun Ojo, Commissioner for Agriculture, Kogi state and Yahaya Abubakar, former Chairman, Okene Local Government, Kogi state over the loot of N150million and N104million respectively.

The threat text message which Shittu received through his phone on Tuesday was by Hadiza, one of the daughters of a witness in the trial of Mr. Raji Owuda Ahmed, a former Local Government Chairman of Adavi, who is being prosecuted by the EFCC, on an allegation of fraudulent practices and money laundering to the tune of N590 million. The text message “for and on behalf of the children” reads: “Mr. Shittu, EFCC, sir, we are opposed to our father’s continued attendance to all related human right activities because of his safety (sic). We the children are being harassed. If Bola Ige number one judicial can be killed without check, who is Ahned Adoke? (sic) We know what we are suffering silently in the hands of unrighteous people of Adavi Local government. Please reconsider his situation as your prosecution witness. Life is for the living”(sic). The prosecution counsel also told the court that there is only one Federal High Court with jurisdiction all over the federation. “This case was assigned to your Lordship’s court before the Lokoja division was established. The charges have been read to the accused persons and plea on the amended charges have not been taken. This case has suffered several adjournments, the rumbling in the market place as regards delays in the adjudication of corruption cases, is not too good for the image of the judiciary. Any attempt to transfer the case to Lokoja division would jeopardize the progress of the case”, Shittu submitted. P.A. Akubo, counsel to 3rd and 4th accused persons, in his argument says that there is no part of the country that is safe. “Even Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory , was bombed on October 1st. We should only look up to God for protection”, he advised. While overruling Shittu over the transfer of the case to Lokoja division of the FHC, the judge cautioned the defence counsel to address their clients when they get to the chambers as the duties the prosecution counsel and the witnesses are performing are for the interest of the entire nation. “Though I am not saying that the threats are coming from the accused, but when you get to chambers, advise your clients very well. Let the accused have more confidence in their counsel. Some of the charges may succeed or not succeed, so why the threat? Threat, no matter how light it may seem, should not be taken lightly because of apparent consequences”, he warned. The judge however said he would return the case file to the Chief Judge of the FHC who would reassign it. In the amended charges, 10 count charges were preferred against Suleiman; 14 against Joseph Faniyi; 8 against Yahaya Abubakar; 11 against Obaro Victor Kayode, 11 against Abiodun Ojo and 11 against Ropo Asala. One of the count charges states “That you Jimoh Suleiman while being the Caretaker and Chairman of Adavi Local Government of Kogi state and Hon. Tolorunjuwa Joseph Faniyi while being the Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Kogi state on or about 3rd April, 2008 in Kogi state conspired between yourselves to forge documents and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 3 (6) of the Miscellaneous Offences Act Cap. M17 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2004 and punishable under Section 1 (2) of the same Act”. In another suit with charge No: FHC/ABJ/CR/75/2010, the quartet of Stephen Asala, former executive chairman of Yagba West Local Government Council, Obaro Kayode, former chairman of Yagba East Local Government Council, Hon Tolorunjuwa Faniyi, Commission for local government and chieftaincy affairs and Samuel Ojo, Commissioner for Agriculture also had their charges amended. Count one of the 11 amended count charge reads “That you Stephen Ropo Asala while being the Executive chairman, Yagba West Local Government Council, Kogi State Kayode, former chairman of Yagba East Local Government Council, Hon Tolorunjuwa Faniyi, Commission for local government and chieftaincy affairs all of Kogi State on or about the 29th June 2009 in Kogi state within the jurisdiction of the Federal High Court converted the sum of N216, 000,000.00 (Two hundred and sixteen million naira) being proceeds of an illegal act to wit: criminal misappropriation with the aim of concealing its illicit origin and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 14 (1) (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition Act) 2004 and also punishable under Section 14 (1) of the same Act”.