The case against an alleged corrupt justice in Nigeria has taken a fresh twist in the court of law following a new revelation.
Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia
The corruption trial of Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia, a suspended Federal High Court judge, on Friday took an a new turn when Dr Gregory Ero, a former employer of the judge, testified that she was owing him N18m.
Ero said the judge took the loan five years ago. Ero, the Chief Executive Officer of Arkleen Oil and Gas Ltd., testified after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission linked a credit of N18m from his company into the bank account of the embattled judge.
While being led in evidence by Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, the EFCC counsel, Ero said, “I treated the loan given to her in May 2012 as an advance which was repayable by her as she promised to repay.
“She assured me that she had properties and that rent was generated by those properties and that she will give me a repayment plan.
“The money has not been paid back. I called her numerous times on the phone and she was initially answering my calls but about a year ago, she refused to pick up my calls.
“I decided to visit her home many times and I was told that she was not in. In addition to sending her text messages, I wrote notes on more than 20 occasions.
“The notes were given to my driver to give her but were returned to me, I was told that notes are not received on her behalf.
“I was disappointed regarding the transaction because I was betrayed,” he said.
Narrating how the judge came to be in his employ, Ero said “When we first started business, we employed a Company Secretary, Mrs Philo Igho-Osagie, she lived at Ijesha-tedo.
“Igho-Osagie had to stop working in 2002 because of the distance between our office located in Victoria Island and her home.
“We employed Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia as our Company Secretary, her office was at Onikan and she was an outsourced secretary. The reason we hired her was because her office was close to us.
“Because we were a new company at the time, we paid her some ad-hoc fees and there was no regular payment structure for her.
“She provided services to us for about two years before she had to leave because she was appointed as a judge of the Federal High Court.
“On May 5, 2012, Ofili-Ajumogobia paid us a surprise visit and I introduced her around the office as a former employee who is now a judge of the Federal High Court.
“She sought private audience with me in office, telling me privately that she needed financial assistance to complete a property transaction in the United Kingdom before a deadline.
“We had just gotten a very huge payment from Pan Ocean Oil and Gas Ltd. and we had enough funds to accommodate her requests,” he said.
Ofili-Ajumogobia’s counsel, Mr Olawale Akoni (SAN),while cross-examining Ero, enquired if his company had any case before Ofili-Ajumogobia at the Federal High Court when the loan was given and if the loan is now considered a bad debt by his company.
Ero said “The N18m was not given in relation to her duties as a judge, it was a personal loan.
“When I was summoned by the EFCC, I thought that they wanted to give me the N18m but that wasn’t the case.
“It is not a bad debt, it is not written off, I still need my money.”
Another witness, Mr Musa Tahir, a Customs Officer, narrated to the court, how the Nigerian Customs Service paid N12m into a company account linked to the judge.
Tahir was corroborating the April 28 testimony of Mr Musa Omale, a Nigerian Customs Officer that the NCS paid N12m sourced from 12 Area Commands into the bank account of the judge.
While being led in evidence by Oyedepo, Tahir said, “Sometime in 2014, when I was a Deputy Comptroller General, I was working at the NCS headquarters Wuse, Abuja I was in the office of the Comptroller General of Customs (CGC), Mr Abdullahi Dikko, my immediate boss.
“Dikko handed a paper and the name and bank account details of a company called Nigel and Colive was written on it.
“I was told to hand over the piece of paper to one Musa Omale, who worked in my office and I was told by Dikko to liase with Area Comptrollers of 12 commands who will send some money to Omale who will in turn transfer the money into the account.
“The twelve commands are; Tin Can Island, Lilibong Area, Kirikiri Larger Terminal, Abraka, Seme Area Command, Muritala Area Command, Area Command Field Operations Zone A and Area Command Field Operations Zone B.
“Kaduna Area Command, Katsina Area Command, Federal Operations Zone C Ares Command, Ooni Ares Command and Ogun Area Command.”
“When I got to my office, I summoned Omale and I related all the directions of the CGC to him which he subsequently carried out.
“There were no services between the NCS and Nigel and Colive Ltd, that I know of,” he said.
Ofili-Ajumogobia, is standing trial alongside Mr Godwin Obla, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and a former prosecutor of the EFCC.
The duo are jointly charged on two-counts of perverting the course of justice while Obla is facing an additional two counts of offering gratification in the sum of N5m to Ofili-Ajumogobia, a public official, while serving as a judge.
Ofili-Ajumogobia faces a 26-count bordering on unlawful enrichment, taking property by a public officer, corruption by a public officer, forgery and giving false information to an official of the EFCC.
Both denied all the charges.
Eight witnesses including bankers and custom officers, have so far testified for the EFCC at ongoing proceedings about how the judge allegedly laundered funds illegally into various bank accounts.
During Friday’s proceedings, Akoni and Obla’s counsel, Mr Ferdinard Oby (SAN) in separate applications requested for the release of the defendants international passports by the court to enable them seek medical treatment overseas.
Oyedepo, however, objected to the prosecution’s request on the grounds that there was no evidence of their health status before the court, noting that it was a ploy by the prosecution to delay the trial.
Justice Hakeem Oshodi adjourned the case until June 1 for ruling on the applications and continuation of trial.