Hearing in the ongoing trial of Muhammad Belgore, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, SAN, before Justice Rilwan Aikawa of the Federal High Court sitting in Ikoyi, Lagos continued today, Wednesday, October 4, 2017, with the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, replying on point of law to the objection raised by the defence to the admissibility of a document he sought to tender against the defendant at the last sitting.

Belgore, a governorship candidate during the 2011 Kwara State gubernatorial election, is standing trial alongside Prof. Abubakar Sulaiman, a former Minister for National Planning, for allegedly receiving the sum of N450m on March 27, 2015 out of the $115,010,000 paid into Fidelity Bank Plc by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke.

During the proceedings on Tuesday, October 3, the prosecution counsel had sought to tender in evidence a document containing the e-mail trail between the Managing Director of Fidelity Bank and Ugonna Madueke, son of former Petroleum Minister, Diezani Alison-Madueke but the defense counsel objected.

Counsel to the first defendant, Ebun Shofunde, SAN, had objected to the admissibility of the certificate of identification as well as the attached documents on the grounds that they failed to comply with the Section 84 of the Evidence Act.

Shofunde had also said that the verification of the certificate, which is a condition precedent to the admissibility of the attachments, could only be done either by an expert or a witness who is familiar with the use of the computer.

He, therefore, prayed the court to reject both the certificate of identification and its attachments.

Counsel to the second defendant, Tunji Ayanlaja, SAN, had also adopted the submissions of Shofunde.

Oyedepo had urged the court to adjourn the case to today in order to enable him respond accordingly.

At the resumed hearing today, Oyedepo told the court that the objection of the defence to the admissibility of the extracts of the e-mail sought to be tendered through the prosecution witness, Usman Zakari, was misconstrued.

He further submitted that the defense appeared to have conceded that there was substantial compliance with the Section 84 of the Evidence Act.

The prosecution counsel added: “Counsel to the first defendant has misconstrued the tenor of the certificate.

“The opening paragraph of the certificate itself speaks volume of the manner in which the documents we are seeking to tender was generated.

“I submit that paragraphs 1 and 2 substantially comply with the Section 84 (2b) of the Evidence Act, as the certificate clearly certifies that the documents were supplied to the computer in the ordinary course of the activities of the bank and that the computer was used regularly to store or process information.

“To this extent, I urge Your Lordship to hold that the requirement of Section 84(2b) was substantially met.

“I also submit that the last paragraph, wherein the certifying officer states that he confirms that the information supplied by the bank in this certificate is to the best of his knowledge and belief shows that he has the requisite capacity, as the Chief Compliance Officer of the bank to issue the certificate.

“The document we are seeking to tender was certified by the Chief Compliance Officer of Fidelity Bank in whose custody the mail attached to the certificate was generated and printed.

“The certificate shows that it was signed by Bode Ogunmolade, who is the Chief Compliance Officer of the bank," Oyedepo said

He, therefore, submitted that Zakari, who is the investigating officer, could tender the documents recovered by him in the course of his investigation.

However, in his response to the prosecution's submission, Shofunde said there must be evidence of the person who signed the document before the court.

“The document must by itself speak as to who signed it. Yes, there is a document before the court, but there is no evidence about the person who signed it,” Shofunde said.

The prosecution counsel further faulted the argument by counsel to the first defendant that the witness could not give direct oral evidence in the matter.

According to Oyedepo, “The document referred to in Section 84(1) is not the certificate itself, but the document intended to be tendered, which is the extracts of the email.”

He said the witness could give direct oral evidence regarding his findings in relation to the document and not the certificate raised by counsel to the second defendant, Tunji Ayanlaja, SAN, at yesterday’s proceedings.

Oyedepo, therefore, urged the court to either accept the certificate or call for oral evidence by the certifying officer.

According to him, “This is not the first certificate to be certified by this same Boye in this case. My Lord, exhibit 3 that was signed by this same bank official had been tendered and admitted by your Lordship.

“The issue of the proper certification being raised by counsel to the second defendant is extremely irrelevant to the fact in issue.”

Shofunde, however, said that though he was not particular about the court calling for oral evidence, it must be evident from the certificate that the mail emanated from the custody of the bank official whom the prosecution claimed to have signed it.

“The prosecution is urging the court to read meaning into the document more than it contains.

“The designation (Chief Compliance Officer) is vague. So, the court should not reduce any of the provisions of Section 84 to silence,” he added.

After listening to both counsel, Justice Aikawa adjourned to October 30, 2017 and November 1, 2017 for ruling on the document, continuation of trial and hearing on the motion filed by a lawyer to join Alison-Madueke as a defendant  in the suit.

Muhammad Dele Belgore

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