Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, the fifth prosecution witness in the ongoing trial of Ayodele Fayose, immediate past Governor of Ekiti State, has told a Federal High Court in Lagos how he was informed about two years ago that his late Special Assistant (SA) Justin Erukaa died in an accident.
Obanikoro gave the evidence in continuation of his cross-examination by Olalekan Ojo (SAN), the second defence counsel.
Fayose was arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on October 22, 2018, alongside a company, Spotless Investment Ltd, on 11 counts. He had pleaded not guilty to the charges, and the court had granted him bail in the sum of N50million with one surety in like sum.
EFCC had opened the case for prosecution on November 19, 2018, and called four witnesses. On January 21, 2018 prosecution called its fifth witness, Obanikoro, a former Minister of State for Defence.
At the last adjourned date on February 5, Obanikoro was still under cross-examination by the second defence counsel, who had sought to tender the extra judicial statement of Justin Erukaa, made to EFCC in the course of their investigation into the case.
However, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), the prosecuting counsel, had objected to the admissibility of the said statement on the grounds that counsel was seeking to tender the document from the Bar, with which he wanted to contradict the witness from the Bar.
Citing the provisions of Sections 232 and 233 of the Evidence Act, he argued that the approach was wrong.
Justice Mojisola Olatoregun had consequently, ordered counsel to address the court, on the admissibility of such extra judicial statement made by a person interrogated during the course of investigation and who is not standing trial.
Parties had addressed the court on February 7, after which the judge reserved ruling.
In her ruling delivered on Monday (yesterday), the court had admitted the extra judicial statement of the late Erukaa and marked same as exhibit J.
When trial resumed on Tuesday, Ojo continued cross-examination of Obanikoro, who has been in the witness box since January.
Ojo asked: “Do you remember your statement on exhibit G2 made on October 8, 2018?”
Obanikoro replied: “I will have to see that to acknowledge.”
After being showed the exhibit, Ojo asked: “In exhibit G2, you specifically stated that you were not privy to any discussion between the first defendant and the former NSA,” to which Obanikoro replied: “That is correct.”
The conversation continued thus:
Ojo: “I suggest that because you were not privy to any such conversation, you can’t on your oath tell the court any date or time of such alleged conversation.”
Ojo: “In the same exhibit G2, you categorically said that Justin Erukaa died after he had made exhibit J”, to which the witness replied in the affirmative.
Defence: “This Justin Erukaa who was one of your special assistants, can you tell the court how you got to know about his death after making exhibit J?”
Obanikoro: “He left Lagos a day before Sallah about two years ago, and the Police called one of my SAs that the owner of the phone just had an accident and died on the spot. He immediately called me and informed me.”
Ojo: “Do you remember on February 4, you told the court that you could not recall whether or not Justin Erukaa made any statement to the operatives of the EFCC?”
Witness: “Yes, I said so.”
Defence counsel then urged that exhibit J be shown to the witness and then he asked him what the document was. Obanikoro replied that it is a statement.
Defence: “Whose name appears as the maker or author of exhibit J?”
Witness: “Justin Erukaa.”
Defence: “Did you attend the burial of Justin Erukaa?”
Witness: “I was there with my family.”
Finally, Ojo asked the witness if any document was provided to the EFCC operatives in the course of interrogation to back his statement before the court concerning the second defendant, and Obanikoro replied in the negative.
With this last question, Ojo informed the court that he had finished the cross-examination of Obanikoro. The former minister consequently stepped down from the witness box.
The prosecution called its sixth witness, Olugboyega Falae, a staff of Ecobank, who said he had worked in Skye Bank (now Polaris), as Head of Estate Support Department.
On what he knows about the property known at 44, Plot 1241, Osun Crescent, Maitama, Abuja, the witness told the court that one of the responsibilities of his unit was to dispose non-core assets of the bank that are excess to requirements.
He said the property was one of such assets, which was sold at the time, after acquiring requisite approvals.
According to Falae, in the case of the said property, one Mrs. Titiloye approached the bank with a N300million offer for the property, adding that there were discussions and exchange of letters between them, before the property was eventually sold for N200million.
After the witness finished his evidence before the court, he was cross-examined by defence counsel, but there was no re-examination from prosecution. The court has adjourned until Wednesday for continuation of trial.
According to the charge, on June 17, 2014, Fayose and one Agbele allegedly took possession of the sum of N1.2billion for the purpose of funding his the former’s governorship election campaign in Ekiti State, “which sum they reasonably ought to have known formed part of crime proceeds”.
Fayose was alleged to have received a cash payment of the sum of $5million (about N1.8billion) from Obanikoro, without going through any financial institution and which sum exceeded the amount allowed by law. He was also alleged to have retained the sum of N300million in his Zenith Bank account and taken control of the aggregate sums of about N622million, “which sum he ought to have known formed part of crime proceeds”.
Fayose was alleged to have procured De Privateer Ltd and Still Earth Ltd., to retain in their Zenith and FCMB accounts, the aggregate sums of N851million. Besides, the defendant was alleged to have used the aggregate sums of about N1.6billion to acquire properties in Lagos and Abuja, as well as the sum of N200million to acquire a property in Abuja, in the name of his elder sister Moji Oladeji.
The offences contravene the provisions of Sections 15(1), 15 (2), 15 (3), 16(2)(b), 16 (d), and 18 (c) of the Money Laundering Act.