The trial of Gabriel Suswam, former governor of Benue State in a case of N3.1billion fraud resumed on Wednesday, January 31, 2018 before Justice Ahmed R. Mohammed of the Federal High Court, Abuja with one of the prosecution witnesses, Abubakar Umar, recanting the statement he had earlier volunteered to the EFCC.
Umar, a Bureau De Change operator, had on November 22, 2017 narrated how he helped the former governor to convert the sum of N3.111billion into dollars (which amounted to $15.8 million), between August and October 2014.
Umar, who is the PW4, said he converted the money and took same to Suswam at his house in Maitama, Abuja but later changed and told the court that he took the money to government house, Benue state.
Prosecuting counsel, Rotimi Jacobs,SAN, who noted that Umar’s testimony before the court was contradictory to the evidence he gave in a statement he volunteered to the EFCC, urged the court to declare him a hostile witness.
Consequently, Justice Mohammed ordered Jacobs to cross-examine the witness on his contradiction in his oral testimony as to where he took the money to, and also the circumstances that led to him giving that statement.
At the resumed sitting on Wednesday, January 31, Jacobs showed Umar his statement of August 12, 2016 and sought to tender same in evidence. Umar’s statement in the document was made through an interpreter, Idris Yakubu, who happens to be his (Umar) brother in-law. Umar, while reading from his statement through the court’s interpreter said, “On my last day in court, the evidence I gave to the court in respect of Gabriel Suswan's case regarding the N3.1billion for purchase of dollars that I gave him in his house was not the right one. I gave a wrong statement due to the pressure from people close to the former governor. I received calls to change my statement in order that I would be compensated with money”.
J. P Daudu, SAN, counsel to Suswan, objected to the admissibility of the document relying on Section 83(3) of the Evidence Act saying, “for the interested person in the dispute which is sought to be resolved, the statement should have been made in his own hands but was done by one Idris Yakubu and so there should be a jurat for the disposition to be satisfactory”.
Daudu argued that the statement sought to be tendered was made over one year ago after the prosecution had been given time to put its house in order.
He argued that the statement was not that of Umar as “he cannot write in English”. He stressed that the statement should have been taken in its original text before it is translated. The learned silk, therefore, asked where the original text in Hausa was. He described the statement as “documentary hearsay evidence” as the interpreter had not been called.
Also, Okolobia’s counsel, F.R. Onoja objected to the admissibility of the document by aligning himself with the arguments of Daudu. He added that the maker of the statement is not the one who was called to tender the statement which offends Section 83 (1b) of the Evidence Act.
Responding, Jacobs said, “My Lord, the question is whether the document is relevant to this proceedings or not. And, the answer is that the document is relevant to enable the court decide the circumstances and events surrounding the testimony of the witness particularly his evidence of May 5, 2016”
While relying on the court's ruling of December 12, 2017, as well as Section 83 of the Evidence Act, Jacobs added that “any evidence that shows circumstance of the testimony surrounding that day is relevant and if the statement is relevant, it is admissible”.
He also relied on Section 205 and 206 of the Evidence Act, adding that “the witness cannot be regarded as an illiterate even though he cannot write in English”.
Jacobs argued that the witness authorised his brother in-law, Yakubu, to write on his behalf and he voluntarily gave his statement to EFCC, stressing that the witness signed it after it was read to him in English and translated.
Jacobs also argued that for Section 83 of the Evidence Act to apply, the court has to look at the maker of the document, if he signs it, he is deemed to be the maker.
Umar, while further reading from his earlier statement to the EFCC said , “In august 2014, my boss, former Governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswan, called me to his house in Abuja and introduced me to a lady whom he never told me her name and asked me to give her my account details, and I did. Mr. Suswan told me that she would transfer money to me and that when I receive alert I should give him the dollar equivalent”.
Umar according to his statement told the court that he handed over the money to Suswan at his house in Maitama, Abuja, adding that “all the times I took dollars to Suswan, I always took different taxis for my security so that nobody would know I am carrying cash or where I am going to”.
He also added that he did not know any security man attached to Suswan's house as they were always changed. Umar said he used to call Suswan before going to the house so that he can leave his name at the gate.
Umar added that whenever he gets to the house, he does not interact with anyone but remains in the car until Suswan comes out, takes him to a private part of his house where he gives him the money in dollars. He added that Suswan does not acknowledge the receipt of all the monies in writing.
Four statements rendered by Umar on different dates were tendered and admitted in evidence. When asked by Jacobs why he told the court that he took the money to government house in Benue, Umar answered by saying “I did not tell the court Benue, I only told the court that I took the money to government house”. When asked again, he said: “I took the money to government house in Abuja for the former governor”.
The matter has been adjourned to March 14, 2018 for ruling on the admissibility of the document and continuation of trial. Suswan is standing alongside his finance commissioner, Omodachi Okolobia for allegedly defrauding Benue state government to the tune of N3.1bn while in office.
They were on November 10, 2015 arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on 9-counts of financial impropriety and money laundering.