Raymond Omatseye, a former Director-General (DG) of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), charged with N1.5billion contract scam, has alleged that he was being “persecuted”.
The accused, who was suspended as the DG of the agency since December 2010, is being tried before a Federal High Court in Lagos by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Mr. Omatseye, who opened his defence on Tuesday, told the trial judge, Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, that he believed the Attorney General of the Federation, AGF, Mohammed Adoke, was persecuting him.
Led in evidence by his counsel, E.D. Onyeke, Mr. Omatseye alleged that his trial came shortly after he declined a request by Adoke to discontinue a case that NIMASA filed against the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG).
Mr. Omatseye started his testimony by first craving the indulgence of the judge to allow him to go into the background of his claim which would aid the court to appreciate his evidence.
The former DG, who had been charged with an amended 27-count charge bordering on contract splitting and bid rigging to the tune of about N1.5billion, was granted leave by the court to provide background to his allegation.
Mr. Omatseye said, “In December of 2010, I was approached by a gentleman, who at that time was the Executive Director of the Cabotage Service of NIMASA, in the name of Ibrahim Zailani.
“Zailani told me that he had been in a meeting with the AGF and that the AGF had directed him to tell me to withdraw a case between NIMASA and NLNG.
“I told him I could not do so because that was the decision of the board.
“Exactly on Nov. 14, 2010, between noon and 1.00p.m., in my office, I received a call from a gentleman called Tunde Ayeni.
“He said hello, hold on for your caller and then handed the phone over to a man who said he was Adoke.
“The man said, ‘I sent Zailani to you to withdraw the NLNG case and you have refused’.
He said, “Mr. President has called me twice on this matter to instruct you to withdraw this case.
“I responded to him, My AGF sir, either you please send me a memo to that effect or please send a message through my minister to direct me accordingly.
“I am not in a position to unilaterally withdraw the case.
“He said ‘I am the chief law officer of the Federal Republic’ and I replied, Sir, please help me to do as I have requested.
“He asked if I was aware that there was a directive from his office that no government institution can sue another government institution without his permission.
“I told him that the NLNG is majority-owned by foreigners and, therefore, cannot be considered as a government parastatal or agency.
“At that point, he said to me, I have given an instruction and you have refused to obey.
“This will be your waterloo.”
Mr. Omatseye told the judge that 10 days after the phone conversation with Mr. Adoke, three operatives from the EFCC came to pick him up for interrogation.
He said he was taken to the EFCC office in Ikoyi with the Director of Procurement and the Director of Finance of NIMASA.
He said he called the Minister of Transportation, Yusuf Suleiman, to inform him of what was going on while on their way to the EFCC office in Ikoyi.
He added that they were flown to the EFCC office in Abuja the following day where he was confronted with a petition written against him by the Minister of Transportation.
He said the petition was what formed the basis of his trial.
Mr. Omatseye said the contract approval threshold for NIMASA was N2.5m for supply and N5m for goods and services.
He said that the thresholds were not yet stipulated as of the time he approved the contracts over which he was being prosecuted.
According to him, while the charges captured contracts awarded between December 2009 and February 2010, the contract award threshold for NIMASA was only put in place by the Bureau of Public Procurement in November 2011.
The EFCC Prosecutor, Godwin Obla, had raised an objection to that line of testimony which the judge overruled.
The case was adjourned till May 20 for continuation of testimony.