Prosecution witnesses on Thursday told the Plateau State High Court how a former Plateau State governor, Jonah Jang, and a former state government cashier allegedly diverted funds meant for the micro, small and medium enterprises in the state.
The cashier, Yusuf Pam, was said to be attached to the Office of the Secretary to the State Government (OSSG).
The allegedly diverted funds released by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) were said to be meant for artisans, small scale farmers, market women and other small-time entrepreneurs.
The funds were first diverted into the account of the Plateau State government and its agencies before they were finally moved to private accounts, according to prosecution witnesses quoted in a statement by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Testifying as the 13th prosecution witness, an assistant director in charge of development with the CBN, Musa Olashuko, before the judge, C.L Dabup, gave some insights into the alleged diversion.
“We made an enquiry on the regular flow of funds between the credited account communicated to us by the state government and the Plateau State Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency (PLASMEDAN)’s account.
“We noticed that funds were diverted to accounts related to the state government and its agencies and that no disbursement was made through the initial beneficiaries, i.e. the SMEs,” Mr Olashuko.
When CBN noticed the inappropriateness of the deal, Mr Olashuko said a recommendation was made that the Issuance of Irrevocable Payment Standing Order (ISPO) issued by the state government be taken over in order to recover the funds.
He further said the money was supposed to be sent directly from Zenith Bank as the bank housing the money to the beneficiaries’ accounts within five working days, but the Plateau State government allegedly diverted the funds to various accounts of the state.
While cross-examining the witness, counsel for the first defendant, E.G Pajwok, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, asked the witness whether, in the course of their investigation in Jos, they went to the PLASMEDAN office or contact any of the officials.
He responded that the CBN later found out that “PLASMEDAN was just a paper creation. No building, no officials. The creation was not supported with any structural or operational framework”.
ICPC operative testifies
The 14th prosecution witness, Taiwo Oloronyomi, a chief superintendent at the Independent Corrupt Practices and other Related Offence Commission (ICPC), also testified that Mr Jang diverted the N2 billion meant for MSMEs.
Mr Oloronyomi told the court that ICPC’s investigation revealed that the sum of N2 billion was not deposited into the PLASMEDAN account as stated in the Memorandum of Understanding between the Plateau State government and the CBN.
“My lord, we discovered that this money was deposited into the Plateau State Project 1 Account as against the PLASMEDAN account.
“Our investigation also revealed that the money was moved in tranches from the Project 1 Account by the second defendant, on previous approval of the first defendant, directing his officials: Permanent Secretary, Cabinet and Special Services, Accountant General of the state and the commissioner of finance for the purpose of classified expenditure,” he said.
“My lord, the second defendant was given cheques and withdrew the money in tranches, on several days and took it to the first defendant himself. When we discovered that, we invited him, and he voluntarily narrated to us orally and in writing, how he withdrew the money and took it to the first defendant along with some security personnel as escorts,” he further said.
Mr Oloronyomi further told the court that the memo used as a backup to withdraw the money was tagged as ‘Classified expenditure’.
“My lord, we swung into action to know what classified expenditure is but found out no correspondence in the state government was ever tagged as such. We invited the governor who also wrote a statement but couldn’t explain what he meant by classified expenditure.”
The witness also told the court that they also investigated Plateau State’s SUBEB account and discovered the same pattern was used to loot money from the account.
“In the account, we discovered about N3 billion and the pattern of withdrawal was the same as the PLASMEDAN’s account,” he said.
The prosecuting counsel, Rotimi Jacob, a Senior Advocate, moved to tender the statement of the second defendant made to the ICPC as an exhibit.
But the counsel for the second defendant, S. Olawale, challenged the admissibility of the document, saying it was made by his client under duress.
He also said his client was subjected to physical and psychological torture by an officer of the ICPC, Fatima Mohammed. Mr Oloronyomi denied the allegation.
The judge then ordered a trial-within-trial to determine the veracity of the claim of the defence.
The prosecution and the second defendant counsel presented one witness each during the trial-within-trial.
Mr Dapub, the trial judge, thereafter, adjourned the matter till May 20 for the adoption of final written addresses and May 30 for ruling and continuation of examination-in-chief.
Mr Jang served as governor of Plateau State from 2007 to 2015. He was later elected senator representing Plateau North Senatorial District under the PDP in 2015.
Mr Jang faces 12 charges of diverting N6.3 billion while he was in office.
He has denied the charges.
Support PREMIUM TIMES' journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: To place an advert here . Call Willie - +2348098788999