The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission’s 10th prosecution witness, Mr. David Ikpe, told the Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday that the Office of the National Security Adviser in May 2014 paid a cousin to former President Goodluck Jonathan, Mr. Robert Azibaola, the sum of $40m from the $1.2bn approved by the ex-President.
The anti-graft agency alleged that the former president authorised the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation to release the sum of $1.2bn to the ONSA for “urgent national security project.”
Azibaola, his wife, Stella, and their firm, One Plus Holdings Nigeria Limited, are being prosecuted by the EFCC on seven counts of money laundering before the court.
The EFCC alleged in the seven counts that the three defendants unlawfully received $40m from the then NSA, Sambo Dasuki, allegations which they denied.
Under cross-examination by the lead defence lawyer, Chief Chris Uche (SAN), on Thursday, Ikpe explained that in March 2014, Dasuki through a memo entitled, ‘Intervention on urgent national security project,’ sought Jonathan’s approval for the release of $1bn to handle a number of sub-heads, including unmanned area or pipeline monitoring installations.
He said, again in April 2014, Dasuki sent another memo to the then President requesting an approval for $250m.
The witness said the then President approved Dasuki’s requests and by May 2014, the sum of $1.2bn which was by $50m less than the ex-NSA’s actual request, was paid to ONSA account.
When asked by Uche (defence lawyer), the witness said the former President’s cousin had explained during investigation and in his statement made to the EFCC that ONSA paid the sum of $40m to the account of One Plus Holdings Nigeria Limited, owned by him “for a security assignment in the Niger Delta.”
Giving a background to the payment, Ikpe said, “In March 2014, the then NSA, Sambo Dasuki, wrote a memo to the President titled, ‘Intervention on urgent national security project’ in which he sought the approval of Mr. President for $1bn to handle a number of sub-heads including unmanned area or pipeline monitoring installations.
“The NSA made an additional request for $250m in April 2014.
“The President gave approval to his request.
“The President approved the release of $1.2bn to the NSA for the purpose it was sought.
“In May 2014, the sum of $1.2bn was then released from the NNPC account under the title ‘intervention on urgent national security project.’”
He admitted that Azibaola was not the only one paid from the $1.2bn released by the NNPC.
He said, “It was this fund that was disbursed to the various recipients.
“I confirmed that the $40m was part of the $1.2bn released by the President for urgent national security intervention project.”
When asked if he saw the President’s letter authorising the release of the $1.2bn, Ikpe said, “I personally did not see the letter by Mr. President.”
He was also asked if any official of the EFCC saw Jonathan’s letter, but he said, “I would not know if the any officer saw it.
“But I saw the link chat in which the letter was alluded to.”
Asked if he was aware that such national security issues were usually classified that such funds meant for them were not channelled through the normal public procurement mechanism, the witness said, “I am not an expert in public procurement.
“The Public Procurement Act 2007 will make exemption for procurement that will impede on national security.”
When also asked if he knew that the funds allegedly being paid for the release of Chibok girls from Boko Haram’s custody would also not be passed through the usual public procurement mechanism, he said, “In all honesty, I am an investigator in relation to economic and financial crimes and not on violent extremism such as Boko Haram.”
He was also asked similar question in respect of Niger Delta militancy but he said “I do not have the hands-on experience on Niger Delta militancy.”
He was asked if he interviewed any Niger Delta militant or any official of government agencies involved in tackling oil bunkering and pipeline vandalism, as per the security projects approved by the then president, he said “no.”
The defence lawyer showed him exhibits of Dasuki’s authorisation of the sum of $40m to Azibaola.
When asked if he interviewed Dasuki, being the man at the centre of everything or obtained his statement in the course of the investigation Ikpe said he did not.
He also said the EFCC did not set out to investigate the $40m transaction.
He said the transaction was discovered on investigation of other allegations contained in the petition sent to the EFCC by the new leadership of the ONSA in 2015.
Meanwhile, the witness admitted on Tuesday that he and his team members obtained during a search of Azibaola’s office, documents detailing how the defendants spent the money released to them by the NSA office.
He said it must be the documents of the original case at the EFCC office when the defence lawyer him asked to produce them during the Thursday’s proceedings.
Following an application by Uche, the defence lawyer, the trial judge, Justice Nnamdi Dimgba, directed the prosecuting counsel, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir, to produce the documents at the next court sitting.
The judge said the documents were “vital” to the defence of the accused persons.
He said the court would be at liberty “to draw conclusions” if the EFCC failed to produce the documents.
Also, following an application by a lawyer in the defence team, Ledun Mitee, Justice Dimgba lifted the freezing order placed on One Plus Holdings Nigeria Limited’s account with the Zenith Bank Plc.
Justice Dimgba noted that EFCC’s excuse for not filing an objection to the application by Mitee, was not satisfactory and left the claim by the defendants that the account was a subject of the ongoing trial, unchallenged.
The judge adjourned until January 22 and 23 for continuation of trial.