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N2.2B NGA Scam: EFCC Alleges Threat To Witness Life

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ABUJA, July 20, (THEWILL) - A new twist was on Tuesday July 20 added to the on-going trial of the former Director General of the National Gallery of Arts, NGA, Joe Musa when the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC accused him of threatening prosecution witnesses in a desperate bid to frustrate his prosecution, spokesman of the EFCC, Femi Babafemi in a statement made available to THEWILL in Abuja has said.

Musa and three suspended directors of NGA are facing a 14-count charge bordering on misappropriation and diversion of funds totalling over N2.2 billion before Justice Olukayode Adeniyi of the FCT high court, Lugbe, Abuja.

The allegation made in the open court by the prosecution counsel, Sir Steve Odiase against Musa is coming against the backdrop of threats sent to the mobile phone of a principal witness, Dr. Henry Achubo who is a Director of Finance at the NGA.

When the matter came up on Monday, a prosecution witness, Mr. Festus Chidi, who is the Chief Internal Auditor of the NGA had testified that, Joe Musa converted the sum of N40 million for K 12 retreat project that never held, adding that the accused diverted the money for his personal use. He stressed that Musa’s predecessors in 2004 and 2005 appropriated only N1.6million and N1.5million respectively for the same retreat. He equally gave details of how funds totalling over N2.2 billion were diverted for personal use by Musa and his co-accused.

At the resumed hearing of the case on Tuesday, the EFCC counsel told the court that a principal witness, Dr. Achubo failed to come to court for fear of being killed. He said the witness was warned to stay away from the court. According to him, the text message sent to Achubo’s phone reads: "Big fool, you bite the finger that fed you. We are waiting. Come and testify. We are watching to see your interest in this case. We failed to attack you last year when you attack our Oga last year; we would not fail on you. Your dead body is bound home. Careless and loose idiot".

Odiase also complained that another witness, Mr. David Ajiboye, the Chief Accountant of the NGA who was to testify at the resumed hearing of the case also failed to present himself for the pre trial conference which the prosecution counsel slated for between 3 and 5 pm on Monday. He said the witness who switched off all his phones was later seen with the accused Mr. Joe Musa.

The witness, Ajiboye however surfaced at the hearing of the case on Tuesday, and wanted to be taken without the pre trial conference, a development the prosecution counsel claimed was very dangerous.

The development led to a heated argument in court as the prosecution counsel argued that the accused has breached the provision of Section 341 {2} of the Criminal Procedure Code, CPC. The section makes it mandatory for an accused granted bail not to interfere, intimidate or romance with the prosecution witness. "When this is done, the accused’s bail stands revoked because the witness will be a hostile witness", Odiase told the court.

But rather than rule on the issue raised by the prosecution counsel, Justice Adeniyi ordered the same witness to give his testimony.

The other accused persons who are being prosecuted on a 14 count charge along with Musa are Olusegun Ogunba, Director of Finance, Dr Kweku Tandoh, Director of Research & Education, and Mrs. Oparagu Elizabeth, Deputy Director, Administration.

When the matter came up on Monday, a principal witness, Mr. Festus Chidi, had told the court that international training for managerial staff for which over N65 million was appropriated and approved by the DG did not take place.

The witness said that other ghost projects the DG initiated to loot funds as shown in the proof of evidence before the court includes the Berlin Art conference in which the sum of N26.5 million was misappropriated.

Other areas of fraud, the witness pointed out was the misappropriation of the sum of N64, 350,500.00 for professional training, capacity building and manpower development when virtually nobody was trained as well as the misappropriation of the sum of N15 million for keeper management retreat when the retreat did not take place.

Chidi also told the court that the former DG further opened two illegal and fraudulent accounts with Spring Bank and Oceanic Bank in which he diverted the agency’s funds for his personal use.

Earlier in April, 2010, Mr. Dubem Egbunike who is the assistant chief research officer of the NGA, during cross examination, had told the court that over N160 million was diverted to private pockets of the DG and top echelon of the NGA.

The witness had also said that though the staff salaries of NGA in a month stood at about N 15.5 million naira, but that the DG inflated it to the tune of N19.27 million monthly. The witness had also said that each of the accused persons takes home five million naira each for fictitious expenses using fake receipts for retirement, as instructed by Joe Musa.

The third accused person, Dr Tandoh was also said to have been given the sum of N13 million for an exhibition that never took place, and diverted the sum of N7 million for his personal use and returned only N6 million to the coffers of the NGA.

The first accused, Musa was also said to have acquired a house at Constitution Road Kaduna at the cost of N18 million and rented to the NGA for N5 million annually. Another property owned by him in Auchi, Edo state, was equally said to be valued at over N700million.

The case has been adjourned till October 18, 2010 for the continuation of trial.