A former Senior Special Assistant to ex-President Goodluck Jonathan on Islamic Affairs, Mr. Umar Tahir, on Tuesday told the Federal High Court in Abuja how an ex-minister, Tanimu Turaki, only released the sum of N200m out of the N359m approved by the then President to organise a security sensitization programme in different parts of the country in 2014.
Tahir said that due to the shortage in the funds released, the programme that was planned to be organised in each of the 19 northern states and in each of the six-political zones of the country was only executed in the North-West, South-South, Abuja, Kaduna and Kano states.
The witness, a lawyer, said this while testifying as the first prosecution witness in Turaki’s trial on money laundering charges involving about N854m.
Turaki, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, presided over the Ministry of Special Duties and Intergovernmental Affairs from 2013 to 2015 and served as the Supervising Minister of Labour from 2014 to 2015 in the former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration.
He was arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission on May 4, 2020, alongside his former Special Assistant, Sampson Okpetu, and two firms- Samtee Essentials Limited and Pasco Investment Limited, on 16 counts of money laundering.
The prosecution alleged that the defendants used the companies to launder funds totaling about N845m stolen from the two ministries, where the minister held sway under the Jonathan administration.
But Turaki and his ex-aide pleaded not guilty to the 16 counts.
Testifying as the first prosecution witness, on Tuesday, Tahir told the court how he was invited by the then President Jonathan on June 23, 2014 to discuss the security challenges posed by Boko Haram, fake speeches, amongst others in the country.
The witness, who was led in evidence by EFCC’s prosecuting counsel, Mr. Mohammed Abubakar, said part of the advice he offered the President was to let his office organise “a sensitisation town hall meetings across the 19 states and the six geo-political zones, which the Vice-President and top members of the government would attend.”
He said he raised a memo on June 30, 2014 in which he enumerated how the planned programme would be implemented and indicated the need for funds to be released to organise the programme.
“The President in his minute on my memo gave his approval through the Vice-President and my office. Therefore, on July 7, 2014, the approval was conveyed to my office and that of the Vice-President.” He said he subsequently held meetings with the Minister of Special Duties, after which he sent a budget of N359m for the programme to the minister on September 22, 2014. The witness said, “On January 7, 2015, the President granted the approval that the Minister of Finance should release N359m for the programme.”
He, however, said out of the N359m approved by the President, only N200m was released to him. According to the witness, of the N200m, the sum of N150m was paid to him in three tranches of N50m each in January 2015, via an account he submitted to Turaki. He said he collected the balance of N50m in cash from the ex-minister’s aide. Tahir said it was when he was invited by the EFCC to throw light on the transactions that he was told that the total sum of N359m was released to the minister.
“I gave EFCC copies of the cheques I issued for the disbursement of the money released to me. I said it was only N200m that was released to me. They said the complete N359m was released to the minister, but he only gave me N200m”. Justice Inyang Ekwo, however, adjourned till September 21, 2020 for the cross-examination of the witness.