Today, a lot of people both from within and outside the country, have been commending the President for his guts to fight corruption, particularly with the prosecution of the perceived high and mighty in the society. But this is only a tip of the ice-berg, when it comes to checking an issue which has persistently hindered this nation from reaching its desired level of national development.
There are lots of former public officers being tried in court, including those who may have served the country to the best of their abilities. But a case in question is former Chief of Defence Staff (CDS), Alex Badeh, which has got many tongues wagging as to the intrigues that have pervaded the cross examination of the star witness and the errors that followed since the case came up for hearing.
However, as the anti-corruption fights rages on, Air Vice Marshal Alex Badeh is facing a task of clarifying what actually transpired during his tenure. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), brought the former Chief of Defence Staff before an Abuja High court on a 10-count charge bordering on money laundering, corruption and criminal breach of trust, marked HC/ABJ/CR/46/2016, datedFebruary 26 and signed by the Deputy Director of Legal and Prosecution Department at the EFCC, Mr. Aliyu Yusuf. He was alleged and accused of conniving with one Iyalikam Nig Ltd to spend the funds, part of which was purportedly said to be invested in property in Abuja and the removal of about N3.97 billion from the Nigerian Air force account.
Nevertheless, many see the trial of the former CDS, as not just the trial of Badeh, but as that of the Nigerian Armed Forces. This according to those familiar with the Nigeria’s military, the Ex-CDS has not done anything that has not been done before by past Chiefs of Air Staff.
A peep into the testimony of the prosecutor’s principal witness during cross examination confirms that this practice had been on before Badeh assumed the position of CDS.
The witness, Air Commodore Salisu Abdullahi Yushau (retd) during cross examination by the defence counsel, Chief Akin Olujimi, SAN, disclosed that the sum of N588 million given monthly to ex-CDS,was a practice that has pre-dated him as CDS. He also stated that earmarking N558 million for the office of the Chief of Air staff, was a usual monthly practice and tradition in the Nigeria Air force, and that it has been in existence even before Air Chief Marshal Alex Badeh took over office.
He also affirmed that he used to set aside the same amount for Badeh’s predecessor Air Marshal Umar. Urging further, the witness said similar amounts of money were readily made available at the end of the month to Air Marshal Umar long before Air Chief Marshal Badeh was appointed Chief of Air Staff. While Yushau confirmed that Badeh was not a signatory to the Air Force account, neither could he produce any written authorization from the defendant requesting for money to be transferred or paid to anybody and also said he informed Air Marshal Badeh of the usual practice in the force. In his candid words: “I gave the Chief the complete brief of the financial position of the Nigeria Air Force which included the usual practice.”
Under cross examination, he confirmed that he was the person, who informed Air Chief, Marshal Badeh of the usual practice and recommended that the money be released. He said that of the N1.7 billion outstanding, 558 million was usually earmarked for the office of Air Staff for general administration, while the rest was disbursed to the various commands and units for priority projects and training.
During the course of the trial, few weeks ago, given what many saw as a damning evidence against the very senior retired military brass, when he said Badeh collected N558 million monthly from him. He, however, stunned everyone in the court when he turned around at the last adjourned date and said he had no personal records of the financial transactions between him and Badeh.
The pertinent question on the lips of Nigerians since the witness made the U-turn in his evidence has been, how did he come to the conclusion that the money he gave to Badeh runs into billions as alleged by the EFCC? How did he know the dollar equivalent since he does not keep the records of their transactions? The witness had also previously told the court in his evidence that he personally handed over the amount of N558 million not just to Badeh, but also to his predecessor, Air Marshel M.D Umar. When asked about the N90 million used in furnishing a house in Abuja, he said, he never at any point said in all his statements to the EFCC, that the huge sum was used to furnish a house. While Badeh’s counsel, Chief Akin Olujimi, SAN, referred to page 86 of the proof of evidence when he made a statement to the EFCC on February 4. In the last six lines, he wrote: “The dollar he changed was used for payment of estacode and other sundry payments like servicing of jets, among others. These funds were from the left-over of salaries, that is, after payment of salaries.
When asked by the counsel, if the records consist of amounts received and payments made, he replied that each unit made its own retirement of funds released to them, saying funds were not released by the DFA, but to the NAF headquarters.
He also stated that when allocations were made to all NAF formations, the money was disbursed to all and his deputies were in charge of their own allocation. He subsequently informed the court that if there was any need for funds, the deputy wrote and approval was given by him, then they proceed to the headquarters to collect from their own votes. Yushau, however, confirmed that he was the accounting officer for the directorate.
Accordingly, some human rights and pro-democracy activists, in their views, said that the charges would fall like packs of cards because they lack substance and may be difficult to prove. “Most of the time, proving allegations against suspect has always been a Herculean task for the EFCC and other anti-graft agencies. The star witness of the EFCC in this case had goofed and given contradictory evidence in the case when he said in one breath that he gave N558 million monthly to Badeh and turned around in another breath to say that he did not have personal records of his monetary transactions with him.’’
The above evidence also shows that the said house does not belong to the former CDS. While the National Coordinator of NNP, said that the media trial had only succeeded in putting the Nigeria Military to ridicule and must be stopped, while claiming they are in support of the government’s current anti-corruption drive, he insisted that government should stop distracting Nigerians with the current media show. “Such a case that lacks substance should be discontinued in public interest” and for the common good” and urged government to direct its attention to solving the nation’s challenges rather than embarking on a wild goose chase and spending tax payers’ money.
Consequently, another civil rights organization also took a swipe at the statement credited to the Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, in an interview granted to a national daily “The former Chief of Defence Staff is someone whose country home came under attack. In fact, his own community had been seized by Boko Haram up to three times. Then they gave him money to buy weapons to secure his own community, but he would rather build palaces in Abuja.” Describing the statement as deliberately false and misleading, he maintained that “it was invidiously calculated to tarnish the unblemished professional reputation of a distinguished professional, who has spent the better part of his life protecting and defending this country from external aggression and securing the territory of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. While, it is not in doubt that Badeh is facing criminal charges, he, like every other Nigerian citizen, has a constitutional right to a fair hearing as enshrined, in section 36 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, (1999) as amended. He is also presumed innocent until proved guilty by a court of competent jurisdiction and occupied with ensuring that Badeh is apprised of his rights under these circumstances, and receive a fair hearing in court rather than deliberately leaking these untruths to the media to turn public statements and opinions against him.
During the cross examination of April 19, 2016, by Chief Akin Olujimi on the star witness, Air Commodore Salisu Yushau (retd), he admitted making conflicting statements and contradicted himself on so many questions put to him bordering on statements he had previously written to the EFCC. Yushau admitted that the statements he made to the EFCC was different from what he gave in court based on the nature of questions asked and agreed to the chagrin of all present at the court that he made errors in evidence.
Yushau to date has made only five distinct statements with EFCC and when asked by the defence counsel the reason he left out substantial part of the evidence when he made statement, he said that his answers were based on the questions he was asked by EFCC. On further cross-examination, it was disclosed by the defence counsel that the witness had earlier told EFCC in his February 4 statement that the money for the development of the shopping complex was paid in dollars at once. But the witness admitted it was an error. “I cannot remember saying ‘once,’ but if I said so it was an error,” the witness said.
Also, when asked on what transpired between him and one Architect Saka, he said that based on the directive of his boss, he had engaged Saka, who drew a plan for the shopping complex. Asked if he was the one that paid Saka for the drawing, he said the man was not paid, but when cross-examined further, he disclosed that since the job was given to Mustapha Yerima, Managing Director, Ryte Builders, the construction company that handled the complex, he made him “to give something to Saka. After the construction job was given to Engineer Yerima on the instruction of my boss, I called him to give Saka something since the job was not given to him and I was told he gave him N10 million.”
On the balance payment for the land acquired for the shopping complex, the witness admitted instructing the Command Finance Officer (CFO) to pay the balance. He, however, insisted that he never instructed that the money be transferred in naira to Ryte Builders Ltd account. “I was aware that N558 million was in NAF account when I instructed the CFO to pay after he was supposed to change it to dollars. Instead, he transferred the money in naira into the account of Ryte Builders. I did not ask him to transfer the balance in naira,” the witness affirmed. “Will it surprise you that the evidence you gave was different? What you told the court with regards to the payment for the construction was different from the evidence you gave. From your evidence, you instructed Group Captain Sinni, the then CFO to pay the balance of the payment for the land to Yerima from the money you took to your boss every month, but later when you visited EFCC, you said Captain Sinni, paid in dollars,” Olujimi stated.
In his response, Yushau admitted that he did tell EFCC that Sinni paid the money in dollars, but that he had already made his statement before realizing that it was transferred from NAF account. “That statement was given before I knew that my CFO transferred the money in naira instead of paying him in dollars.”
Chief Olujimi asked further: “You expected Sinni to pay the balance in dollars?” And the witness answered, “Yes, my Lord. I did not ask him to transfer the balance of N558 million from Nigerian Air Force account to that of Ryte Builders Ltd.”
On the property at No. 6, Ogun River Street, Maitama, Abuja, which was purchased in the name of Iya-Likam property Ltd, the witness admitted knowing one Barr. Hussein Umar, who on the instruction of his boss, Badeh, was used to buy the property. He disclosed further that when the property was found, he went to inspect it in the company of the said Hussein and his boss, Badeh, before it was purchased. But when asked if he included such in his statement with the EFCC, he said “no.”
“In your statement with EFCC, did you say you went with Badeh?” “I did not say so,” the witness affirmed. The defence counsel also put it to the witness that all he said in evidence in the court was not stated in his statement with EFCC, to which he also affirmed.
“After we inspected the property and after being satisfied, he, Badeh, gave me a name, in which the property should be purchased and I forwarded the name to Umar following the instruction from my boss. “I did not say all this in my statement because I was answering the questions as they were put to me by EFCC.”
AVM Badeh, has repeatedly denied the allegations by the EFCC that he misappropriated funds meant for the Nigeria Air force and is particularly disenchanted about the unfair treatment meted out to him by the country he fought hard for against Boko Haram. That despite his assurances to the EFCC that he would fully cooperate with any investigations, he was being treated unfairly and his rights violated. According to him: I was Chief of Air Staff from October 2012 to January 2014 and then appointed CDS. During my time as the CDS, funds for weapons were directly released to the Chief of Airstaff, Army Staff and Naval staff and not to me.
I had no control over the funds and yet I am being accused of embezzling weapons’ funds, the office of the CDS, had no operational control of the services and had nothing to do with spending.”
To discerning Nigerians, Badeh is simply being persecuted rather than being prosecuted in the EFCC and if given fair hearing, he would explain himself out of the allegations and with the latest development of cross examination of the witness as to the evidences and contradicting statements given to the EFCC, there is more to it than meets the eyes. The trial by the press, which has become the stock in trade of the EFCC, is not only unconstitutional and unethical; it is fast losing its appeal and credibility before discerning members of the public, who have become disenchanted, desensitized to such under-handed and Gestapo tactics.
Omoba Kenneth Aigbegbele is of Citizens Watch Nigeria (CWN)