The prosecution opened trial on Tuesday in the alleged N715m fraud case involving former Special Duties Minister, Kabiru Tanimu Turaki (SAN), by calling an ex-aide to former President Goodluck Jonathan as its first witness.
Turaki was arraigned before a Federal High Court in Abuja on May 4 this year on a 16-count charge filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
He is charged with his former Special Assistant, Sampson Okpetu and two firms allegedly owned by Okpetu – Samtee Essentials Limited and Pasco Investment Limited.
The EFCC alleged, in the charge marked: FHC/ABJ/CR/61/2020 that Turaki used the two companies belonging to his aide, to illegally siphon public funds estimated at N714, 670, 014.87, allegation he denied.
Turaki served as the Minister for Special Duties and Inter-Governmental Affairs from 2013 to 2015. He was also the Supervising Minister of Labour from 2014 to 2015.
On Tuesday, the prosecuting lawyer, Mohammed Abubakar called his first witness, Tahir Umar Tahir, who served between 2013 to 2015 as Senior Special Assistant to ex-President Jonathan.
Led in evidence by Abubakar, Tahir said Jonathan sought his advice on January 23, 2014 on how to address the growing insecurity, particularly as is related to Boko Haram activities, hate speech and hateful preaching by Islamic organisations.
He said he suggested to the then President the need to organise a series of sensitisation activities with religious leaders and bodies.
Tahir said Jonathan agreed to his suggestion and asked him to raise a proposal to that effect, outlining the plan of action and the budget.
The witness said his budget for the project was N359million, which the then President approved and directed the Minister of Finance to release.
He said, by his plan, he had planned to carry out the activities in the six geo-political zones and in each of the 19 Northern states.
Tahir said since his office had no bank account of its own, he liaised with the Ministry of Special Duties, headed by Turaki.
The witness said around January 20, 2015 the Minister of Special Duties told me that the Finance Minister has released N200m for his project.
Tahir added that the Minister later caused N150m to be transferred, in three tranches, into the account of one of the groups he worked with on the project – Community and Youth Development – which he had given the Minister.
“Two days later, his PA (Personal Assistant), Sampson, brought N50m to me in cash. I collected it and put it a safe in my office,” he said, adding that he later applied the money for the purpose for which it was meant.
Tahir said he only got N200m out of the N359m he requested for. The witness said he could not do all he planned to do because the entire budget was not released to him.
He said when the EFCC called him later to ask him about details of the assignment carried out and how is disbursed the money, he explained to the agency what he did and presented documents and vouchers as evidence.
The witness said when investigators at the EFCC told him that all the money he asked for was released, he told them he did not know, but that it was only N200m that was released to him.
The prosecution later tendered through the witness, some documents, including the Tahir’s appointment letter, his schedule of duty, the memo he wrote to President Jonathan on the issue, his memo to the Minister (Turaki), and the approval given by the then President.
At the conclusion of the witness’ testimony-in-chief, lawyers to the defendants sought time to return for cross-examination.
Justice Inyang Ekwo adjourned till September 21 for continuation of trial.
Turaki was represented at Tuesday’s proceedings by a team of about 20 lawyers, including about eight Senior Advocates.
The team, led by Olajide Ayodele (SAN), included Joe Kyari Gadzama, Chrs Uche, Kenneth Njemanze, Akinlolu Kehinde, Chukwuma Machukwu-Ume, Ikechukwu Ezechukwu (SAN), Ibrahim Shafi (all Senior Advocates of Nigeria).