N544m fraud: EcoBank staff can’t testify against me – Ex-SGF, Babachir Lawal tells court

Babachir Lawal, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, has kicked against the presentation of staff of EcoBank, Mr Chidi Eboigbe to testify against him in court.

The Federal Government had arraigned Lawal for alleged N544M contract fraud.

Lawal complained that the witness who is EcoBank’s Compliance Officer was not listed as a witness by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission, EFCC, as required by law.

At the resumed trial before a Federal Capital Territory High Court on Wednesday, lawyer to EFCC, Mr. Offem Uket had sought to call the witness to testify in the matter for the anti-graft commission.

However, counsel to the former SGF, Chief Akin Olujinmi SAN, objected to the witness giving evidence on the ground that he was not listed by EFCC in its proof of evidence before the court.

According to him, “I have looked through the proof of evidence and I cannot see any name like that of the witness. The only name I saw is Obadina Abiola Ganiyu, who made a statement to EFCC on 15/11/2017.

“It is settled that a witness to be called has to be listed, he cannot testify because we do not know what the witness will say and we cannot prepare for cross-examination.”

He then urged the court to rule out the witness from testifying in the case, citing the provision of Section 379 (1) of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015 to back his objection.

Counsel to other defendants aligned themselves with the submission of the senior lawyer adding that the prosecution wanted to take the defendants by surprise.

They argued that it was a statutory provision that the prosecution must give the defendants all materials they need to prepare for their defense.

Responding to the opposition, the prosecution counsel, Offem Uket, told the court that the prosecution had listed a representative of Eco Bank as a witness in the case.

According to him, Eboigbe was not in court in his capacity but as a representative of the bank to speak to the statement of account from the bank already part of a proof of evidence before the court.

He further argued that a bank is a juristic person that can always act through a servant, saying, “that being the case, any staff of the bank can be assigned to come to court to speak to its past records.”

He cited the authority of Saleh vs BON to back up his argument and urged the court to discountenance the defendants’ objection.

Replying to this on point of law, Olujinmi stated that the case cited by the prosecution counsel was meant for civil cases and not criminal matters like the present case.

He added that the prosecution ought to have taken advantage of the provision of Section 379 (3) of ACJA and file additional evidence at any stage before judgment.

After listening to arguments and counter-arguments on the desirability or otherwise of allowing the witness to testify, Justice Jude Okeke adjourned till July 6 to rule on it and continuation of hearing the prosecution’s case.

The ex- SGF, his brother, Hamidu David Lawal, who is a director of Rholavision Engineering Limited; an employee of the company, Sulaiman Abubakar and the Managing Director of Josmon Technologies Limited, Apeh John Monday, are being prosecuted by the EFCC on alleged contract fraud.


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