Justice Ahmed Mohammed on Wednesday fixed March 14 for a ruling on whether or not to admit as exhibit a hostile prosecution witness statement alleging that he was pressurised to contradict the first statement he made at EFCC office.
The witness, Abubakar Umar a Bureau De- Change operator who testified for prosecution had on May 5, 2016 while under cross examination told the court that he changed N3.1billion to $15.8m dollars for former Benue State governor Gabriel Suswam and handed the sum $15.8m to him at government house Benue.
The prosecution said the evidence contradicted his earlier written statement, that he handed the $3.8million to Governor Suswan in government house Maitama Abuja.
Under cross examination Wednesday by the prosecution Rotimi Jacobs who had declared him ‘hostile witness’ through an interpreter, Umar said that he indeed helped Suswam to convert a total sum of N3.111bn into dollars between August and October 2014 and handed $15.8m dollars to governor Suswan as contained in his statement. The statement was admitted as exhibit.
When it was also put to him that he said in his statement that every time he took the dollars to Suswam at his Abuja residence, and that he used different taxis so that nobody would know he was carrying cash, he said it was true as against his evidence in court that he took the money to Government House, he said where the Governor stays is the Government House.
But when it was put to him that he said in his evidence that he always handed over the money to the person he was asked to give it to, and he did not know if the money was handed over to Suswam, he said he stood by his evidence .
“Can you remember telling the EFCC that the defendant paid N15.8m into your account which you handed over to Suswam in his Abuja Maitama home?
“Yes I remember.”
“You remember where you said you always go to give the money to Suswam in Maitama, Abuja? “Yes, I remember but the EFCC told me the name of the street.”
When shown the statement he made to the EFCC, he agreed that the statement and his signature on the statement were his.
Also, when a portion of his statement on how the Governor introduced him to a lady was read to him, he saud: “Though he did not tell me her name she said I should give her my bank account. She said some money would be transferred into my account (N15.8m) and I should change it to dollar equivalent. I handed the money in dollar and cash to Suswam in Abuja.
He said he had easy access to the compound anytime he went. “I always stayed inside the car until he came out, then he took me into his private room where I would hand over the money. He didn’t acknowledge it in writing.
He admitted making the statement but did not put Abuja
On why he told the court that he handed over the money to a person, of whom he didn’t know if it was handed over to Suswam, and which one he wanted the court to believe – the statement or the evidence – he said the court can choose any to believe.
“Which one do you want my lord to believe whether the statement or what you told my lord in court?”
“I don’t know only the judge can tell, ” Umar said.
“Can you stand by your statement that was read in court or the evidence?
“I have given statement to EFCC and have given evidence in court,” he replied.
“You told my lord you took the money to government house”
“No, I said I took the money to Governor’s residence and where the Governor stays is government house.
“Which city or State?”
“Since, it is Abuja, why did you tell the court that you took the money to government house in Benue?”
“I didn’t mention the name of the state.”
After a portion of his evidence where he said government house was in Benue was read to him, Umar said ” I didn’t mention Benue but the person who recorded my evidence in the court put Benue.”
The prosecution counsel then read to a statement he made on May 5, 2016, in which he said he was coerced and pressurised by agents of the first defendant to change his statement, which he admitted he made, counsel to the first defendant, Joseph Daodu (SAN) objected to the admissibility.
In the statement made on August 12, 2017 which read in court indicted the defendants for interfering with the prosecution witness.
In it Umar stated that “the last day he was in court the evidence he gave not the correct statement in Gabriel Suswan case.”
“I gave wrong statement in court because of pressures from people around Suswan .I have being receiving calls telling me to change the evidences that they will give me money.
“I went to see JB Daudu, the lead defence counsel at Jabi and he asked me why my statement is like this”
The witness further stated that he is ready to tell the truth. He said J .B .Daudu never call him but Suswan called him stating the phone number he used to call him.
Jacobs urged the court to admit the statement as an exhibit. In his reply, the lead defence counsel J.B. Daudu (SAN), vehemently opposed to it admissibility. He said it was made when the matter was on going in court and one year after prosecution had declared the witness hostile.
In arguing against admissibility of the later statement, Daudu said the original copy of the statement which was made in Hausa before it was translated to English ought to be tendered before the court
He argued further that the statement was signed by Umar’s inlaw, one Yakubu Idris, who wrote and signed the statement and not by Umar, which according to him, is against the Evident Act which gives the maker of a statement opportunity to append his signature or initials on it.
Responding, Jacobs said there two ways of contradicting a hostile witness by contradicting him with other evidence rather than with his previous statement or through a statement made at other timss and that it is not limited to statement made before or after his evidence in chief.
According to him, Section 205 and, 206 of the Evident Act say the witness should give evidence that will not mislead the court.
“The purpose of tendering the very evidence is to show why the witness changed in his testimony. The first defendant was calling him and even asked him to go and see his lawyers'” Jacob said
He urged the court to admit the document.
He said the grounds given by the defence counsel were not tenable.”The claim that the documents we seek to tender was made in Hausa and what we seek to tender is the English version, is not true”
“The statement was written in English language and not in Hausa as allegedly the defence counsel.”
He said once a witness signed a statement he is said to be the maker of such statement
Jacobs said the witness who claimed to be a school certificate holder however said he could not write in English, so he asked his brother In-law who accompanied him to EFCC to write for him.
Andrew Orolua, Abuja