N754 million NIMASA fraud: Witness says statement obtained by coercion

Patrick Ziakede Akpobolokemi
Patrick Ziakede Akpobolokemi, former DG, NIMASA

A defendant in the alleged N754 million fraud at the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Ekene Nwakuche, said his statement to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, was obtained by coercion.

Mr. Nwakuche said this on Monday while standing trial in an Ikeja High Court alongside five others, including Patrick Akpobolokemi, a former Director General of NIMASA.

Mr. Akpobolokemi, Nwakuche and other co-defendants are standing trial over alleged N754million fraud at the agency.

The other co-defendants are Ezekiel Agaba, Governor Juan, Vincent Udoye, Adegboyega Olopoenia and a company, Gama Marine Nigeria Limited.

At the resumption of trial within trial, Mr. Nwakuche said that his statement to the EFCC, admitting complicity in the fraud, was not voluntarily given.

Mr. Nwakuche, led in evidence by Seni Adio, SAN, said, “On September 30, 2015, at 9.30 a.m., my boss, Mr. Ezekiel Agaba, and I went to the office of the EFCC on invitation.

“We were not attended to until about 2.00 p.m.; I introduced myself as Agaba’s Personal Assistant (PA),

“I wrote my name, signature and I was told to write about myself, when I questioned why I was to write about myself, I was told that I was the guest of EFCC operatives and that it was only normal for me to tell them about myself.

“At some point, I asked for a lawyer but I was told by the EFCC operatives that I didn’t need a lawyer, I didn’t have a case to answer and that it was our DG, Mr. Akpobolokemi that they were after.

“My boss called me aside and told me to co-operate and that my statement was just mere corroboration and that it was Akpobolokemi that they were after,” he said.

Mr. Nwakuche, in his testimony further revealed how Orji Chukwuma, an EFCC operative, allegedly threatened to detain him if he refused to co-operate.

“Chukwuma told me, see this small boy, I haven’t seen such a useless Igbo boy like you, I will detain you like I detained Akpobolokemi’s P.A’.

“I did not want to be detained because it was a Wednesday and the next two days were public holidays making Monday the next working day.

“A cautionary statement was written by Chukwuma and I was told what to write, where to write and when to write.

“There were inconsistencies in the dates because I was heavily fatigued and I left the EFCC between 11.00 p.m. and 12.00 a.m.,” he said.

Mr.Nwakuche further alleged that on subsequent visits to the anti-graft agency, he was told what to write in his statements by EFCC operatives.

“I was assured that I was going to be a prosecution witness for the agency against Akpobolokemi.

“Chukwuma and Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, the EFCC prosecuting counsel, played a ‘bad cop, good cop’ routine on me in order to get my statement.

“There were no cameras in their conference room and when I raised my concern about the contents of my statements to friends, I was advised not to challenge it at the Human Rights Commission because I’ll get into more trouble.

“One day, during a routine visit to the EFCC, I was told that I was to be arraigned in court, despite prior reassurances that I’ll not be arraigned,” he said.

However, the counsel to the EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo, debunked Mr. Nwakuche’s claim of coercion during cross-examination.

“The cautionary words were written before you were told to start writing and you signed it which showed you understood.

“You signed that you were not obliged to say anything; that whatever you say will be taken into writing and may be used against you in a court of law.

“I put it to you that all our meetings at the EFCC were covered by cameras, I also put it to you that a lawyer came to see you when you visited the EFCC,” Mr. Oyedepo said.

Mr. Oyedepo also asked Nwakuche if there was any promise in writing given to him by the anti-graft agency not to use his evidence against him. He replied saying, “No, there was no written promise, only an oral promise.”

Justice Raliatu Adebiyi adjourned the case to March 29 for adoption of addresses in the trial within a trial.

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