By; BUHARI B. BELLO, Jos
The trial of a former Governor of Plateau State, Jonah Jang, continued with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), presenting more witnesses against him and Yusuf Gyang Pam, a cashier of the office of the Secretary to the State Government.
They are being prosecuted on a 12-count charge bordering on misappropriation of state funds to the tune of N6.3 billion.
They are alleged to have been complicit in the fraudulent diversion of special funds released by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), for disbursement to small and medium enterprises in the state, under the Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Funds (MSMEDF), two months to the end of Jang’s tenure in 2015.
Testifying as a prosecution witness, Tapchi Yakubu Tashok, a staff of Zenith Bank Plc Jos main branch, while being led in evidence by Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, admitted to knowing Pam.
She said: “I know the second defendant as the cashier of the cabinet office, and he is the one that always comes to the bank for huge withdrawals, and when he comes they will confirm the tendered cheques while they proceed to process his payment.
“Once there is no much cash available to accommodate the withdrawal, they source from other branches and sometimes have to seek approval to withdraw from the CBN.
“If the withdrawal involves a huge sum, we go to the CBN to move it with the bullion van from the CBN to our branch; we offload and ascertain that the cash is complete, we then go ahead, and debit the transaction, while he signs.
“He mostly usually comes around with Hilux van and escort to convey the cash from the loading bay.”
She further testified in her evidence-in-chief that the said withdrawals were made on April 7, 8, 9, and sometimes around March 2015.
Under cross-examination by Mike Ozekhome, SAN, counsel for Jang, she told the court that she never had any dealings with the first defendant, and had never seen him during any such withdrawal from her branch.
When asked if she knew how many bank accounts the Plateau State Government was operating, she said, “it is outside my schedule”.
The defence, thereafter, sought to tender her statement as evidence, which was admitted by the Court as Exhibit D4.
The prosecution then presented another witness, Boyi Sauki Kiakau, the Accountant General during the tenure of Jang.
Led in evidence by Jacobs, he told the court that the manager of Zenith Bank Plc told him about the credit of N2 billion, and demanded that he provides the account details that has been opened for the said money.
He said: “He authorized him in writing to transfer the said sum after he was confronted with an authorization letter and directive from the Governor that the money be transferred to the Project One account.
“I received a directive from the Governor through the Commissioner of Finance to borrow the funds to finance some classified expenditure.
“I also received another approval from the office of the SSG through the Commissioner of Finance to release the said fund and I thereafter raised a mandate to the bank to remit the sum of N2 billion to the office of the SSG, and the money was remitted in tranches.”
Jacobs then confronted the witness with some documents, including: a copy of approval made by the Governor to borrow the fund from the CBN; an instruction to the bank to transfer the account to PLASMEDA account and a counter transfer approval to transfer the money from PLASMEDA account to the Project 1 account; a request note that the said money was to be used for a classified purpose.”
The witness identified the documents and it was thereafter admitted in evidence as Exhibits P36 – P39, after no objections were raised by any of the defence counsels.
Jacobs further asked the witness if he had anything to do with the state’s Universal Basic Education Board.
In response, he said: “There was an approval from the Governor requesting to borrow the sum of N900 million from the State Universal Basic Education, SUBEB, and the said borrowing was to pay pending approvals.
“The SUBEB was only able to provide N750 million and the request was made on March 5, 2015.”
Copies of the approval were thereafter tendered through him and admitted in evidence by the court as Exhibit P40, as no objections were raised by the defence team.
“all the approvals and payments made within that period were said to be for ‘classified expenditure’”, adding that he did not know about any classified expenditure because such expenditure was not under his budgetary control.
Earlier during the proceedings, a prosecution witness, Habila Dung, during his evidence-in-chief, explained the role he played and efforts he put in, regarding the said sum of N2 billion meant for scheme aimed for the development of Microfinance Banks in the state, and how they were diverted for other purposes under Jang’s administration.
Dung, who served in various capacities under Jang, told the court about a Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, between the Plateau State Government and the CBN, adding that a request of N2 billion was made by the state government, which was to be remitted into the Plateau State Government Project One account.
He said: “The signatories to that account were the then Accountant General of the state, Boyi Kiakau and the then Director of Treasury, Mr Yang Duru.”
He further testified that: “Mudashiru Olaitan, Director of Finance, CBN was not comfortable remitting the money in the account.
“I told the then Commissioner of Finance and we went to the Governor in company of the Director, Plateau Investment and Property Development Company, PIPC under which the said money was approved.”
He added that the MD of the PIPC Silas Suleiman offered to give them the account of the PIPC in place of that of the Plateau State Project One account which they all agreed to and he proceeded to forward it to CBN.
However, Dung stated that he proceeded and forwarded the account of the PIPC to the CBN since it’s the agreement reached but, in the cause of his follow-up with the CBN, and when he went to submit the account of the PIPC, Mudashiru of the CBN insisted that Plateau State Microfinance Development Agency, PLASMEDA, opened another account.
Thereafter, he revealed that in company of the MD, PIPC led by the then Commissioner of Finance went and briefed the 1st defendant as the then sitting Governor on the development, adding that the 1st defendant said it was okay and he however proceeded and opened another account for PLASMEDA titled ‘CBN MSNED PLASMEDA N2bn A/C’ domiciled in Zenith Bank Plc and submitted it to the CBN and a confirmatory letter was also forwarded.
According to the witness, he got a text message from Mudashiru that the N2 billion had been remitted and that he ought to have got an alert.
He said: “However to my surprise, I didn’t see any alert, which made me proceed to the bank where the account was domiciled to see the manager, Uche Igwe (PW2) who hinted me that the money was not remitted into PLASMEDA account but was remitted into the Plateau State Government Project Account One, an account that was been managed by the then Accountant General of the state.
“I went to inform the then Commissioner of Finance and the Accountant General, who confirmed to me that the money had been remitted into the said project account and that they could only take action on it after they had conferred with the then Governor.”
According to Dung, he later gathered from the Ministry of Finance, that the governor had approved that the money be borrowed for urgent state matters, and that it will be refunded when money was available, and “when the scheme is set to kick off. Up till today, I have not seen any application from any Microfinance Bank to participate in the scheme,” he said.
The case has been adjourned to April 9 and 10, 2019 for “continuation of hearing”.