The nominal complainant in the alleged N170.3 million Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) contract fraud, Benjamin Joseph, on Thursday wept in open court as he begged the judge for an opportunity to state his case.
Mr Joseph accused the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) lawyer of attempting to close prosecution without him giving evidence.
Mr Joseph, who is also the Managing Director of an Ibadan-based IT firm, Citadel Oracle Concept Limited, defied court protocols to appeal to Justice D. Senchi, for an opportunity for the court to hear his side of the case.
It was at the Federal Capital Territory High Court in Jabi, Abuja during the opening of the defence by two of the seven persons Mr Joseph accused of hijacking a contract awarded to his company in 2012.
The petitioner said the EFCC prosecutor, Jude Obozuwa, has refused to present documents he submitted to the anti-graft agency to the court but has closed the case in an attempt to shut him out from testifying to defend himself.
“My Lord, I will love this honourable court to give me an opportunity to say my side and defend myself in this case.
“My Lord, I am being shut out of this case by the prosecutor. I have not been given the chance to say anything to defend myself of all the allegations against me. The prosecutor even slapped me in his office when I went to see him. He said I wrote a petition against his poor handling of this case.
“My Lord, he has been very mean and very wicked to me. I don’t think I will have justice in this case with this man (pointing at Jude Obozuwa, the EFCC lawyer) as my prosecutor.
“My Lord, he slapped me in front of (CTV) camera in his office. I am the victim in this case.
“My Lord, money was paid (by FIRS) into the (fake) account they opened using a fake Board resolution of my company. They cleared the account. They shared the money among themselves.
“The people who opened the account in my company’s name, who are the ones that operated the fake account in the name of Citadel Oracle, the prosecutor has brought them here as his witnesses against me.
“They are the ones who should stand where I am, my Lord. I am the victim. I have said nothing, in this case, my Lord,” Mr Joseph said in open court on Thursday.
Despite attempts by the judge to calm him down, Mr Joseph refused to be restrained.
“My Lord, I have written all these to the EFCC. My Lord, there was absolutely nothing like that (claim by one of the suspects that he participated in a meeting where a good faith offer of N10 million was extended to him as settlement).
“My Lord, I never attended any meeting with Afe Babalola. All are cooked up lies.
“My Lord, I gave my prosecutor my international passport that showed I was in the U.S. when the so-called meeting with Afe Babalola was held. The prosecutor has refused to present the passport and other documents about the crime in court. Everything they are saying are lies, my Lord. Chief Afe Babalola is still alive My Lord,” he continued to shout.
Mr Joseph was restrained after Justice Senchi assured him that he would ensure all parties are given equal opportunity to state their cases.
As the judge said that, Mr Joseph prostrated full stretch and rolled on the floor in the fore-court to express his appreciation to him.
Last November 5, his lawyers sent a protest letter to the EFCC, accusing Mr Obozuwa of withholding ‘very vital facts and documents” submitted to him and refusing to diligently investigate the case.
In another protest letter from the law chambers of Akin Onigbinde, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN), dated December 30, 2019, Mr Joseph asked the EFCC Chairman, Ibrahim Magu, to remove Mr Obozuwa as the prosecutor in the case.
During Thursday’s sitting, PREMIUM TIMES observed that although it took the first defendant more than three hours to make her statement, it took Mr Obozuwa about five minutes to complete his cross-examination.
He did not make any reference to any of the volumes of document the petitioner said he submitted to him and the EFCC about the fraud.
Obozuwa denies slapping petitioner
In his reaction, Mr Obozuwa denied slapping Mr Joseph, saying he merely “pushed him” after he accused him of taking bribe to compromise the investigation.
“Everyone knows I will not take money. Find out at EFCC. I don’t take a bribe. I prosecuted governors in 13 states. I did not take money. Who is he? We know what we do around people like him who tell us that?” Mr Obozuwa said.
The prosecutor said he was on vacation when he was summoned to the office by his boss following a call by Femi Falana (a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN).
When he got to his office, Mr Obozuwa said Mr Joseph wanted to shake his hands and he refused.
“When he insisted and followed me to my office, I told him if I knew it was about him that I was summoned, I would not have come. I told him he should not make me to do what I will regret. When he resisted, I pushed him,” he said.
Kama says case a betrayal of trust, not fraud
Earlier, Princess Kama, the first defendant, in her defence, denied allegations of fraud against her, and accused Mr Joseph of betrayal of trust.
Ms Kama was formally arraigned by the anti-graft agency in October 24, 2018 along with Onny Igbokwe.
Mr Igbokwe is the chief executive of two Port Harcourt-based IT company, Ad’mas Digital Technologies Limited and Pirovics Engineering Services Limited.
They were accused of conspiring with some top officials of Zinox Group, including the Company Secretary/Legal Adviser, Zinox Group and TD, Chris Ozims, to hijack the contract awarded to Mr Joseph’s company.
Another director of TD, Folashade Oyebode, and two staff of Access Bank Plc, Obilo Onuoha and Deborah Ijeabu, were also accused of aiding the alleged crime.
The petitioner said the trio facilitated the release to them confidential bank documents belonging to his company, which they allegedly used in opening a bank account at Access Bank for the transfer of the proceeds of the crime.
Court documents also named the accountant at TD then, Chares Adigwe of filling the account opening forms at Access Bank, while the Managing Director of Zinox Group, who is also Leo Stand Ekeh’s wife, Chioma, gave directives on the disbursement of the proceeds from the fraud.
However, in her defence, Ms Kama told the court how she deployed her personal finances, experience and contacts to help her former friend who she said later betrayed her trust.
Apart from helping Mr Joseph to win the FIRS contract in 2012, Ms Kama told the court she also singlehandedly financed its execution by Citadel Oracle.
“My Lord, I used my money and experience to package the bids. When the award was given to Citadel, we met with the point-person at Utako to agree on the sharing formula of the profit.
“We agreed that Mr Joseph will take the profit from one of the three Lots. All the agreement was verbal, based on trust, in view of our over 10 years’ of friendship.
“The genesis of the whole problem was the decision to transfer the N38 million profit to the guarantor (TD’s) account,” Kama said.
In an attempt to find an amicable solution to the problem, Ms Kama said Mr Joseph was offered N10 million during a reconciliation meeting with Chief Babalola he attended along with all other parties in Ado Ekiti.
Documents contradict Kama
Court documents submitted by the petitioner to both the police and EFCC and seen by PREMIUM TIMES on Friday appear not to support Ms Kama’s presentation.
For instance, her claim that Mr Joseph was present at the reconciliation meeting purportedly held with Chief Babalola in Ado Ekiti on September 26, 2013, was found by PREMIUM TIMES to be false.
A review of Mr Joseph’s international passport and other travel document revealed he was already outside Nigeria since August 29, 2013 on a business trip to the U.S.
The document shows Mr Joseph did not return to Nigeria until October 2, 2013, contrary to Ms Kama’s claim that he attended the meeting with Chief Babalola.
The case was adjourned to April 7 for continuation of defence, with the second accused, Onny Igbokwe, scheduled to be docked that day.