A former Principal Secretary, Government House Administration, Benue State, Mr. Eugene Orvihi-Ivase, told the Federal High Court in Abuja on Tuesday, that the sum of N450m allegedly signed for in his office’s name without his knowledge was handed over to the ex-governor of the state, Mr. Gabriel Suswam.
He said although he raised the memo for the money to offset outstanding overheads for the Government House sometimes in 2015, he never knew the money had been disbursed by the Benue State’s Ministry of Finance until some weeks after he had been re-deployed to the state’s Office of the Head of Service in June 2015.
The witness, who now works with the National Primary Health Care Development Agency, was testifying as the first prosecution witness in the trial of Suswam and two others on 32 counts of fraud and money laundering involving alleged diversion of a total sum of N9.79bn meant for Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme in the state.
The Office of the Attorney General of the Federation had on June 19, 2017 arraigned Suswam, alongside the Commissioner for Finance in his administration, Mr. Omadachi Oklobia, and a former Accountant, Benue State Government House Administration, Mrs. Janet Aluga, on 32 counts of diverting the total sum N9,791,602,453.80 meant for the SURE-P scheme and a small fraction of it for police reform.
The prosecution accused the three defendants in the 32 counts, of conspiracy, conversion of property, which is a cumulative sum of N9.79bn, allegedly derived directly from corruption; collaboration to conceal the property derived from corruption; obtaining by false pretences and accepting cash payments exceeding the amount authorised by law.
The offences were said to be contrary to and punishable under various provisions of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 and Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act.
Led in evidence by the lead prosecuting counsel, Mr. Aminu Alilu, the first prosecution witness said Aluga (the third defendant) was the one who signed for the Principal Secretary of the Government House Administration, without the knowledge of the occupant of the office (the witness).
He said as of the time he was leaving the position of the Principal Secretary of the Government House Administration in June 2015, he indicated it in his hand over note that the payment of the N450m to the Government House by the Ministry of Finance was being anticipated not knowing that the money had been disbursed.
He said he later learnt from Aluga that the money was withdrawn and handed over to Suswam.
The witness said, “I received the approval of his Excellency, the governor, and I conveyed it to the honourable Commissioner for Finance (Oklobia – the second defendant) for the processing and payment of the said N450m.
“When I was deployed from the Government House to the Office of the Head of Service, I handed over to the new Permanent Secretary, Government House, Mr. Dzege Iaangba.
“In my hand over note to the incoming permanent secretary, I stated that Government House Administration had yet to collect the N450m approved by the governor.
“Several weeks after my hand over, I learnt from the Government House Administration that the said N450m been paid.
“I made inquiries from the Accountant, Government House Administration, Mrs. Janet Aluga (the third defendant), who informed me that she withdrew the said amount of N450m from the bank and took it to His Excellency, Rt. Hon. Gabriel Suswam.
“When I was invited by the police for the investigation, I was shown the payment voucher for the N450m.
“Although I was not aware that the money had been processed, the payment voucher was signed by the Accountant, Government House Administration, Janet Aluga. The voucher was signed on behalf of the Principal Secretary, Government House Administration.”
He said it was “the tradition” that a voucher could be signed on behalf of the Permanent Secretary or Principal Secretary, Government House Administration, when the concerned officer was “not available.”
Under cross-examination by counsel for Suswam and Oklobia, Mr. Joseph Daudu (SAN), Orvihi-Ivase admitted that he was the accounting officer for the Government House Administration as the Principal Secretary.
He also said the Government House’s overheads allocation of N450m was unpaid for a period of 10 months “due to prevailing financial situation since August 2014.”
He agreed that if he had received the money before his redeployment he would have used the money to offset the liability.
Daudu asked the witness if he was aware that the money was not used to offset the liability it was meant for.
The witness said in response, “As of today, I don’t know of anyone complaining that the liability was not paid.”
But Aluga’s lawyer, Mr. Innocent Daa’gba, said he was only served with the proof of evidence indicating that Orvihi-Ivase was to be called as a witness on Monday.
So he pleaded for an adjournment to enable him to get a certain document which he would need to cross-examine the witness.
The judge, Justice Gabriel Kolawole, fixed October 17, for further trial.
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