Fayose: I was informed my late SA died in an accident — Obanikoro

A fifth prosecution witness, Senator Musiliu Obanikoro, in the ongoing fraud trial of former Governor Ayodele Fayose of Ekiti State on Tuesday said he was informed two years ago that his late Special Assistant, Justin Erukaa, died in an accident.

Obanikoro gave the evidence in continuation of his cross-examination by a second defence counsel, Olalekan Ojo (SAN), at the Federal High Court in Lagos.

Fayose, the immediate-past Governor of Ekiti State, was arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on October 22, 2018 alongside a company, Spotless Investment Limited, on an 11-count charge.

He had pleaded not guilty to the charge and was granted bail in the sum of N50 million, with one surety in like sum.

The EFCC had opened the case for prosecution on November 19, 2018 and had called four witnesses.

On January 21, 2018, the 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 (Ojo), who had sought to tender the extra judicial statement of Erukaa, made to the EFCC in the course of their investigation.

In reaction, the prosecutor, Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), 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 wants to contradict a witness from the Bar.

Jacobs cited the provisions of Section 232 and 233 of the Evidence Act, arguing 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, the court had admitted the extra judicial statement of the late Erukaa and marked same as Exhibit J.

At the resumed trial on Tuesday, Ojo continued his cross-examination with Obanikoro, who has been in the witness box since January.

Ojo asked him: “Do you remember your statement on Exhibit G2 made on Oct. 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.”

Obainokoro replied: “That is correct.”

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.”

The witness replied: “Correct.”

Ojo: “In the same Exhibit G2, you categorically said that Justin Erukaa died after he had made Exhibit J.”

The witness replied: “That’s correct.”

Ojo: “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; and 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.”

The defence counsel then urged that Exhibit J be shown to the witness and then he asked him: “What is Exhibit J?”

Obanikoro replied: “It is a Statement.”

Defence counsel: “Whose name appears as the maker or author of Exhibit J?”

Witness replied: “Justin Erukaa.”

Defence counsel: “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 any of his statements before the court concerning the second defendant.

The witness replied: “No.”

With this last question, Ojo informed the court that he had finished his cross-examination of Obanikoro.

Obanikoro 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 Bank) as Head of its Estate Support Department.

On what he knows about the property identified as 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 in excess of the requirements.

Falae said the property was one of such assets, which was sold at the time, after acquiring requisite approvals.

Falae said in the case of the said property, one Mrs. Titiloye approached the bank with a N300 million offer for the property, adding that there were discussions and exchange of letters between them before the property was eventually sold for N200 million.

After the witness finished his evidence before the court, he was cross-examined by the defence counsel, but there was no re-examination from the prosecution.

The court has adjourned until Wednesday (today) for continuation of trial.

According to the charge, on June 17, 2014, Fayose and one Abiodun Agbele were said to have taken possession of the sum of N1.2 billion for purposes of funding his gubernatorial 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 $5 million (about N1.8 billion) from the then Minister of State for Defence, Senator Musiliu 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 N300 million in his bank account and took control of the aggregate sums of about N622 million, which sum he ought to have known, formed part of crime proceeds.

Fayose was alleged to have procured De Privateer Limited and Still Earth Limited to retain in their accounts the aggregate sums of N851 million which they reasonably ought to have known formed part of crime proceeds.

Besides, the defendant was alleged to have used the aggregate sums of about N1.6 billion to acquire properties in Lagos and Abuja, which sums he reasonably ought to have known, formed part of crime proceeds.

The accused was also alleged to have used the sum of N200 million to acquire a property in Abuja in the name of his elder sister, Moji Oladeji, which sum he ought to know also forms crime proceeds.

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 Prohibition Act, 2011.