The corruption trial of Emmanuel Atewe, a former commander of the Nigerian Army operation in the Niger Delta codenamed “Operation Pulo Shield” continued on Friday at the Federal High Court, Lagos, with the first prosecution witness narrating to the court how he aided the accused person to withdraw part of the funds.
The suspect, Nkem Ahidjo, an Abuja-based businessman and contractor, told the court that he received over N4 billion which he converted to dollars and turned over to Atewe.
Ahidjo added that the accused person ordered him to pay part of the money to different organisations, including the sum of N35 million that was paid to the Living Faith Church, popularly known as Winners’Chapel.
Atewe was last week re-arraigned before Justice A.O. Faji, by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on a 22-count charge of money laundering and fraud to the tune of N8.5 billion.
He was arraigned alongside former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, NIMASA, Patrick Akpobolokemi; Kime Engozu and Josephine Otuaga, as well as six companies.
They were said to have diverted N8.5 billion from Operation Pulo Shield between September 5, 2014, and May 20, 2015.
The accused persons had been arraigned on three occasions and had on each occasion pleaded not guilty to the offence.
At the resumption of trial on Friday, the prosecution witness, Ahidjo, who was led in evidence by EFCC lawyer, Rotimi Oyedepo, told the court that he got to know Atewe from the Aso Villa Chapel in Abuja when Atewe was still a Guard Commander.
Ahidjo also said that he and the accused person were also members of the Living Faith Church, and that he sometimes attended “midnight church” in Atewe’s house in Abuja.
The witness said that after Atewe was transferred to Bayelsa in 2014 as JTF Commander, “he invited me to Bayelsa and I went. He told me that the Federal Government gave JTF a grant for security and building of barracks and if I have any company into which account money could be paid,” to which he replied in the affirmative and provided the account numbers of his companies.
According to the witness, Atewe told him, during another visit to Bayelsa, that monies were going to be paid into the accounts and as soon as he receives them, he should acknowledge the payments and await further instructions.
The witness said that after two to three days of the meeting, he started to receive the payments and accordingly informed Atewe, who asked him to hold on till he returned to Abuja.
Ahidjo said that when Atewe returned to Abuja, he invited him to his office at Niger Barracks in Abuja, and introduced Engozu, who is the 3rd defendant in the case, as the person that would take delivery of the money from Ahidjo.
The witness said: “Each time I received it (money), I would call a BDC operator, named Jimoh. I knew him before this time. He would change the money, I would pay him the naira equivalent and take the dollars.
“Once I changed it, I would wait for instruction either from Major General Atewe or Mr. Kime. That was what we continued to do until the end of the transaction in 2015,” Ahidjo said.
He said he received a total of N4,915,163,103 within the period, out of which about N4.1 billion were converted to dollars and delivered to Engozu, who in turn issued a receipt for each payment based on Atewe’s instruction.
Out of the remaining amount, the witness said he was directed by Atewe to transfer N35 million to Winners’ Chapel; N103 million to INP Ltd; N170 million to First Investment Ltd; N99 million to Lord Fem Ltd; N88 million to Ocean Gas and N297 million to Cisco Nobot.
When he was asked by the prosecutor the purpose of the transfer to Living Faith Church, Ahidjo said, “I don’t know what it was for; it was on the instruction of Maj. Gen. Atewe.
“All these monies, I don’t question what they were meant for. It is not my money, so I can’t question what it was for. Maj. Gen. Atewe asked me to act on instruction.”
Justice Faji adjourned till March 21, 2017, for Ahidjo to continue his evidence.