An Abuja High Court has been told that the chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT), Danladi Umar, met severally in his chamber with an accused person, Rasheed Owolabi, a retired Deputy Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service, who was standing trial before him on false assets declaration charges.
Former Personal Assistant to the CCT Chairman, Ali Abdullahi, told the court while giving evidence in the trial within trial on the disputed statement he made to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), in respect of N10m bribe allegedly demanded by the CCT Chairman from the accused person in order to strike out the charges against him.
The witness, who was cross-examined by the EFCC Counsel, Andrew Akoja, told the trial judge, Justice Chizobia Oji that it was at the end of the last meeting of the accused person with the CCT Chairman that a sum of N1.8m was paid into his account by the ex-customs chief.
However, contrary to his statement made on August 12, 2013 that the N1.8m was part of the N10m bribe meant for the CCT Chairman, the witness said that the money was deposited into his Zenith Bank account by the accused person to offset the medical bill of his ailing father.
The witness further told the court that he never met with the former Deputy Comptroller-General of the Customs until he started visiting the CCT Chairman in the course of his trial and that the money was paid to him immediately after the last visit to the CCT boss.
Confronted with the statement where he implicated the CCT Chairman on the N10m bribery saga, Abdullahi said that the statement he first made on the issue was made under duress and based on inducement promised him by two operatives of the EFCC: Abdulmajeed Ibrahim and Bala Mohammed, who investigated the petition of the ex-customs man in the matter.
Earlier in his evidence-in-chief, Abdullahi had told the court that he was a protocol officer at the CCT when he was employed in 2009 and that he later became the Personal Assistant the Chaiman.
The witness said that on August 12, 2013 he was invited into EFCC office in Abuja where he was confronted with a petition from the said Rasheed Owolabi on the alleged N10m bribery deal and that he made a statement on the same day and was allowed to go home on administrative bail but with a condition: to be visiting EFCC twice a week pending the completion of investigation.
He also informed the court that the following day, two Directors from CCT followed him to the EFCC to perfect his bail condition and that in the course of his several visits to the EFCC, he made several statements in addition to that of Auguat 12, 2013.
The witness said that the additional statements where he exonerated the CCT Chairman was the true reflection of what transpired on the N10m bribe and not his first statement of August 12, where he implicated the CCT boss as the beneficiary of the N1.8m bribe.
He denied that his other statements where he exonerated the CCT boss were after-thoughts, adding that he was made to implicate his boss under duress and promises of inducements.
Meanwhile, the trial judge, Justice Chizobia Oji, has adjourned adoption of addresses in the matter till October 20, 2016.
The witness had been arraigned before the court on charges of giving false information but his denial of his first statement on the bribery issue prompted the trial within trial by Justice Oji to determine his claim of duress before admitting the statement.
Similarly, the CCT failed to deliver ruling on the same day, an application by Owolabi, where he accused Umar of corruption and bias, demanding that he disqualifies himself from the tribunal panel that will try him on false asset declaration charges.
As at the timeour reporter arrived at CCT for proceedings, parties involved were seen leaving the tribunal premises.
A very reliable source within the tribunal however disclosed to BusinessDay that, the reason for the adjournment was because the other member of the tribunal, Williams was absent: “we do not even know why he did not show up today, because the chairman himself is around”.
Owolabi is standing trial on a one count charge of failure to declare his assets throughout his career in the public service contrary to paragraph II (1) of the Fifth Schedule, Part 1 and punishable under Paragraph 18 (1) and (2) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999.
But the ex-Customs Chief claimed that Umar in 2012, shortly after the charge was slammed on him, once approached him for a bribe of N10million from him to pervert the cause of justice in a criminal matter filed by the federal government.