By Chris Enenche (Benue State Correspondent)
The trial of the deputy speaker of Benue State House of Assembly, (BSHA), Christopher Adaji and the clerk of the House, Torese Agena, for alleged fraud continued on Wednesday, October 14, 2020 before Justice S. O. Itodo of the Benue State High Court, Makurdi.
The two are being prosecuted by the Makurdi Zonal Office of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on a two-count charge of abuse of office and criminal misappropriation of public funds to the tune of N5,040,950 (Five Million, Forty Thousand, Nine Hundred and Fifty Naira), to which they pleaded, “not guilty.”
At today’s sitting, prosecution counsel, George Chia-Yakua presented two witnesses: Clifford Tyover Attle and Ifa Celestine Mbakaa, who are first and second prosecution witnesses, respectively.
Led in evidence by prosecution counsel, the first prosecution witness, (PW1), Attle, who is an Abuja-based business consultant, told the court that he had been working for the state assembly for three years, which engaged him for the processing of travel documents for members, who went on a working visit and training to United Kingdom; stating that he processed the travel documents in conjunction with the Foreign Affairs Ministry.
While executing the contract, he disclosed that he had cause to request for advance payment from the clerk of the House for his general manager, who was processing the travel documents.
"In the course of processing these documents, my general manager called me and informed me that he needed some money. I then called the clerk of the BSHA to find out whether our payment was ready. He said the approval was ready and that they will credit our account in two days. I humbly requested that the clerk should advance some money to my general manager for him to process the documents and that when the money is paid, the clerk should deduct it at the source," Attle said.
In his own testimony, Mbakaa, (PW2) an assistant director of Accounts in Benue State civil service told the court that the state assembly had the required approval to embark on a legislative tour of United Kingdom and Belgium and that advance payment to the tune of N50, million was made to High Profile Investment Limited, belonging to PW1, who was the resource person to the touring assembly members.
The witness further disclosed that he had the instruction of the clerk of the assembly to deduct N200,000 (Two Hundred Thousand Naira) and transfer it in favour of the general manager of High Profile Investment Limited.
"The BSHA got approval to embark on legislative tour to UK, Belguim and advance payment was made to High Profile Investment Ltd, belonging to the resource person to the tune of N50 million.
“In course of making the transfer to the resource person, I got a call from my boss, clerk of the BSHA that the resource person said I should deduct N200,000 and give it to general manager of High Profile Company Ltd, which I did as he directed," Mbakaa said.
Further in his testimony, the PW2 stated that the Ministry of Finance handled every matter relating to the travel, including estacode payment to the assembly members, through their account details that was given to Finance Ministry.
The testimony of the witnesses and all the previous statements they had made to the EFCC were tendered in court and admitted as exhibits.
Justice Itodo adjourned the matter till October 27, 2020 for further hearing.
It could be recalled that the EFCC had on June 17, 2020 arraigned the two officers of BSHA on two-count charge, of abuse of office and criminal misappropriation of public funds to the tune of N5,040,950 (Five Million, Forty Thousand, Nine Hundred and Fifty Naira). Their “not guilty” plea set the stage for their trial.
Agena was accused in Count One of the charge to have abused his office, sometime in 2019 by taking bribe to the tune of N200,000 (Two Hundred Thousand Naira), while Adaji was accused in Count Two of collecting the sum of N4,840,950 (Four Million, Eight Hundred and Forty Thousand, Nine Hundred and Fifty Naira) sometime in 2019, as money for legislative tour which he did not embark on but rather converted it to his personal use. NNL.