The fourth prosecution witness in the ongoing trial of a former Governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswam, on N3.1bn corruption charges, Abubakar Umar, on Monday told the Federal High Court in Abuja how the former governor and his defence team tried to influence him to change his statement to one that was favourable to the defendant.
Umar, a Bureau De Change operator, had at the commencement of his testimony earlier on Friday, narrated to the court how he helped Suswam to convert a total sum of N3.1bn to dollar and delivered its equivalent sum of $15.8m cash to the ex-governor, in 2014.
But the witness had contradicted himself while testifying before the judge who was formerly handling the case, Justice Ahmed Mohammed, saying in one breath that he delivered the $15.8m to the former governor in his Maitama, Abuja house, and in another breath, that he delivered it to an unnamed person in the Government House in Benue State.
The prosecution, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, had declared Umar a hostile witness over his contradictory testimony.
Justice Mohammed had subsequently withdrawn voluntarily from the case after two reports by Sahara Reporters accused him of taking bribe from the former governor.
Following the reassignment of the case to Justice Okon Abang and with the case starting afresh before the new judge last year, the EFCC reproduced Umar as a fresh witness.
Led in evidence by the lead prosecuting counsel, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), the witness, who testified in Hausa which was interpreted to English by a court official, attributed his contradictory statements before Justice Mohammed to the moves made by the defence to influence him.
Fielding questions from Jacobs, the witness who said he had never been to Makurdi, or anywhere in Benue State, said he received many calls, including that of Suswam, while he was appearing before the former judge as a witness.
He said the former governor, in his call, asked him to see the lead defence lawyer, Mr. Joseph Daudu (SAN), who is a former President of the Nigerian Bar Association.
Umar said, “That is how it is. Many people were calling me so that I would change my statement about my master, Suswam.
“Gabriel Suswam called me and he asked me that I should go to his lawyer, Mr. J. Daudu. When I reached J.B Daudu’s place, he now asked me why I wrote the statement (to the EFCC) like that.
“I told him to ask the person that sent me to him. He said I should go since I wrote the statement like that.”
When it was the turn of the defence to cross-examine the witness, the second defendant’s lawyer, Mr. Paul Erokoro (SAN), asked for and obtained the court’s permission for 10 minutes break.
While cross-examining the witness, Chinelo Ogbozor, who stood in for the lead defence counsel, Daudu, asked that the witness’ previous oral evidence which he gave before Justice Mohammed be read to the new judge, Justice Abang, on Monday.
In the portion of his previous testimony, which was read out in court, the witness said he took the $15.8m equivalent of the N3.1bn he received, to the Government House.
The previous oral evidence also read, “I don’t know how much they gave to the governor. But I only know that I took the money to Government House.
“I remember I am giving evidence on oath. I also remember testifying in the name of Allah. I remember that I said that I handed the $15.8m to Governor Suswam. In my statement to EFCC, I stated that I handed all the dollars converted to Gov. House in Benue.”
Ogbozor also tendered the record of the proceedings before the former judge, who admitted it as exhibits.
The court adjourned till Tuesday for further cross-examination of the witness by the defence.