The Lagos Speaker is being prosecuted by the EFCC
The criminal trial of Adeyemi Ikuforiji, Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, came to an abrupt halt at the Federal High Court, Ikoyi, Thursday, after the temperature in the room rose to ‘unbearable’ levels.
Mr. Ikuforiji and Oyebode Atoyebi, his Personal Assistant, are facing a 54-count amended charge of money laundering of over N600 million.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, said the Speaker and his aide received the money from the state House of Assembly without passing through a financial institution.
After it has been postponed four times, the trial, which is now before Justice Ibrahim Buba, began on Thursday.
But three hours later, a power outage during the testimony of an EFCC witness forced proceedings to come to a sudden end in the 42-seater court room with two functional ceiling fans and a non-functional split unit air-conditioner.
Godwin Obla, the EFCC counsel, told the court that he wanted to demonstrate all the prosecution’s 54 amended charges graphically.
“I suggest we come back when the atmosphere is more conducive,” Godwin Obla, the EFCC counsel, pleaded with the judge.
Justice Buba, sweating profusely in the poorly ventilated court room, did not hesitate to grant his request.
“There is no light and the court is unbearable,” said the judge as he adjourned to December 2 for continuation of trial.
57 ‘ILLEGAL’ TRANSFERS
Giving his testimony in the overcrowded court room, Adeniyi Adebayo, a prosecution witness, said that the commission received a petition against Mr. Ikuforiji in June 2011.
“The petition was a complaint against the first accused person (Mr. Ikuforiji) of siphoning public funds and which was minuted to our section, the Intelligence and Special Operations Section,” Mr. Adebayo, an EFCC investigator, said.
“When we got the petition, we wrote out investigation activities letter which we took ourselves to the Clerk of the Lagos State House of Assembly. On getting there, we were able to recover some documents relating to our investigation.
“We also invited some officers, including honourable members of the Lagos State House of Assembly to our office in Abuja and statements were recorded from all those invited,” Mr. Adebayo added.
Mr. Adebayo stated that cash release registers and vouchers were the documents recovered from the House of Assembly.
“On analyzing the documents, we discovered that various amounts in cash were released to the 2nd accused persons (Mr. Atoyebi) on behalf of the 1st accused person.
“On further analysis of those documents, we also discovered that the cash releases were above the stated threshold in the Money Laundering Act. We also asked the 2nd accused person if he actually collected these sums of money on behalf of the 1st accused person to which he admitted,” said Mr. Adebayo.
Between 2010 and 2011, a total of 57 withdrawals were done during the “illegal” transaction, according to the EFCC witness.
“We called on Mrs. Toyin Atekoja, who is the Finance Officer in charge of paying this money to the beneficiary; she admitted paying cash to the 2nd accused person on all occasions.
“We also confirmed from the then Clerk of the House, Adewale Taiwo Olatunji, who also confirmed that these monies were released in cash to the 2nd accused person,” Mr. Adebayo added.
‘NO ROOM FOR CHEQUE TRANSACTION’
According to the EFCC, Mr. Ikuforiji defended the collection of the over N600 million in cash without going through a financial institution by stating that there was “no room for cheque transaction.”
“Most of the monies collected were in cash. Since he (Mr. Atoyebi) assumed office as my personal assistant, all monies he collected had been personally delivered to me,” Mr. Ikuforiji had written in his statement to the EFCC.
“This has been the tradition of the house because transactions such as making reservation for trips are always done at the last minute and there are usually no room for cheque transaction,” the speaker had added.
The EFCC witness also said that Mr. Olatunji, then Clerk of the House, corroborated the speaker’s claims, noting that such cash transactions were “the usual way of making payments.”
Mr. Adebayo’s testimony would continue on December 2.