The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on October 11presented its sixth witness, Air Commodore Mohammed Lawal Sini, in the trial of Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh (rtd) to shed more light on how the sum of N558 million Nigerian Air Force funds was converted to personal use while Mr. Badeh held sway as Chief of Air Staff.
Mr. Badeh is being prosecuted alongside Iyalikam Nigeria Limited before Justice Okon Abang of the Federal High Court sitting in Maitama, Abuja, for allegedly abusing his office as Chief of Defence Staff, CDS, by using the dollar equivalent of the sum of N1.4 billion removed from the accounts of the Nigerian Air Force to purchase properties in choice areas of Abuja between January and December, 2013.
The offence is in contravention of Section 15 (2) (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended) and punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act.
Led in evidence by counsel to EFCC, Rotimi Jacobs, Mr. Sini, who is currently a director in the Nigerian Air Force, gave details of events that occurred when he was the Camp Finance Officer, CFO, 106 Camp, in 2012.
“In 2012, I was posted to Camp NAF as the Camp Finance Officer (CFO). My schedule involved payment of salaries, disbursement of funds with respect to operations and overhead expenditure of the unit.
“106 Camp was established to provide administrative services to NAF HQ complex, the Air House (residence of the Chief of the Air Staff) and other Air Force units within Abuja.
“I reported to the Director of Finance and Accounts (DFA), then Air Commodore S. A. Yushau, (Prosecution Witness 1), within the Headquarters. I took instructions from him with respect to financial operations within the Unit. Squadron Leader E. N. Abu was the cashier, my subordinate.
“106 Camp receives funds from NAF procurement. These funds typically were for personnel emolument or for recurrent overhead expenditure.
“When we received it, we paid salaries. After this, some amounts of money remained, which were then paid into other accounts. It was the duty of the cashier to pay these balances into the accounts for operations: Ration Cash Allowances (RCA) and Sundry Training Beats (STB). These RCA and STB had some forex components, which I instructed the cashier to generate whenever I received instructions from the DFA, Air Commodore S. A. Yushau.
“I took over the post of CFO from Group Captain Ifeobu. On the very first day I reported for duty as CFO, he told me that a certain part of the RCA taken from personnel emolument, specifically N558,200,000, was meant for the official administrative maintenance of the office of the Chief of Air Staff and that I was to report to the DFA for details of disbursement.
“Upon completion of the handover, I saw the DFA and told him what Group Capt. Ifeobu said about the administration of the RCA.
“Subsequently, administrative instruction regarding disbursement was given to me by the DFA (PW1). This instruction came to me from time to time. But specifically, he said that I should be converting the amount to forex on a monthly basis. However, he further stated that he would be giving me instructions from time to time to make payments out of the total sum. Whenever payments were made out of the total sum, I was to reconcile and convert the remaining balance to dollars and handover same to him.
“During my tenure in the unit, which spanned from November 2012 to December 2013, I was making those conversions and monthly reconciliations.
“My cashier, Squadron Leader Abu, was the custodian of records. He was sourcing the dollars from Bureau de Change (BDC) operators. Depending on instructions, transfers were made to the accounts of the BDC operators. Other times, cash were withdrawn and paid for currency. Such monies were then transferred into accounts of companies or individuals as instructed,” Mr. Sini stated.
When asked if he could still recollect the names of the companies, Mr. Sini said: “I remember two of such account: Habco Nigeria Plc and Ryte Builders. Ryte Builders, I vividly remember, is a company owned by Engr. Mustapha, an acquaintance of the DFA (Yushau). Even before I reported to the Camp as CFO, the company had been rendering services to 106 Camp.”
Giving further details, the PW 6 stated that, “the paper work that we (Abu and I) did was to generate payment mandates to banks. In the case of Engr. Mustapha for Ryte Builders, the instruction given was to the effect that the transfers were made for the Chief of Air Staff. I do not have the details. It was only sufficient for me to know that the money to be transferred was from the N558 million.”
The witness also told the court that there were instances when he and Abu took the dollars to the Air House, where the DFA was on ground to hand it over to the (then) Chief of Air Staff.
Regarding monies paid to Ryte Builders, Mr. Sini explained that, “I remember I prepared papers for the transfer of the money. The cashier and I signed the payment instructions. Specifically, the cashier prepared the mandates, signed and then handed it over to me. I countersigned before it was taken to the bank for payment.”
The prosecuting counsel sought to tender two bundles of documents, payment mandate correspondences addressed to different banks, captioned ‘Transfer of Funds’ and dated January 22, 2013 and March 26, 2013 duly certified by PW6.
But Akin Olujimi, counsel to Mr. Badeh, vehemently objected to the admissibility of the documentary evidence, stating that the evidence was in contravention of Section 104(1) of the Evidence Act, 2004, since certain prescribed legal fees had not been paid by prosecution.
Mr. Olujimi argued that the witness certified the document on April 5, 2016 when he was no longer occupying the office of CFO, yet another contravention of Section 104(1) of the Evidence Act, 2004.
He, therefore, urged the court to reject the evidence.
S. T. Ologoorisha, counsel to the second defendant, aligned himself with Mr. Olujimi’s submission, citing relevant authorities.
However, Justice Abang overruled their objection stating that, “not all public documents require certification before they are tendered in evidence. A correspondence by NAF to a bank is not a document that requires certification.”
He held that, there was no need for the witness to certify, as he had already laid foundation to tender copies of the correspondences, adding that the documents were relevant to the case of the prosecution.
Consequently, the documents were admitted in evidence and marked as Exhibits B6 and B7 respectively.
The matter was adjourned to October 12 for continuation of trial.