The trial of former Minister of Special Duties and Inter-governmental Affairs, Kabiru Tanimu Turaki, SAN, began on Tuesday, before Justice Inyang Ekwo, of the Federal High Court, Abuja, with the first prosecution witness narrating before the court how money meant for sensitization and enlightenment of Muslim youth on hate speech and religious intonation was diverted by Turaki.
The former minister is being prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on 16-count charges of fraud and misappropriation to the tune of N714, 670, 014.87 (Seven Hundred and Fourteen Million Six Hundred and Seventy Thousand and Fourteen Naira, Eighty-seven Kobo).
The witness, Tahir Umar Tahir, a legal practitioner who served as Senior Special Assistant to former President Goodluck Jonathan on Islamic Affairs and State House Mosque, while explaining his duties as Special Assistant, told the court that former President Goodluck Jonathan invited him to his office and discussed the security situation of the country with him, especially the activities of Boko Haram and religious intonation that had to do with hate speeches and inciting comments.
Following the discussion, Tahir disclosed that he proposed to organize town hall sensitization, across the 19 northern states and the six geo-political zones and that he put out a memo on June 30, 2014 regarding how the programme will be executed which he said the former president approved.
He revealed that a total of N359 million was approved for the sensitization and enlightenment, but that only N200 million got to him through Turaki, leaving a shortfall of N159 million (One Hundred and Fifty- nine Million).
Tahir further told the court that it was on his recommendation, that the government sent the money to the account of Turaki’s ministry, given that only ministries operate accounts which such funds can be transferred to.
He added that on July 7, 2014 a formal approval for the programmes was conveyed to his office, through the office of the Vice President in which the Minister for Special Duties would carry out the assignment in liaison with him as the Senior Special Assistant on Islamic Affairs.
Tahir informed the court that the cost of N359 million for the programmes was released by President Jonathan on January 2015, but was told by Turaki that the Ministry of Finance approved and sent only N200 million, following which Turaki transferred N150 million in three tranches to him.
He added that on February 4, 2015 the remaining N50 million was approved and given to him in cash by Turaki’s special assistant, Sampson Okpetu.
In the end, Tahir said he couldn’t carry out the programmes completely as the fund for it was not fully released.
Speaking further, he disclosed that he was invited by the EFCC on November last year over the programme and that the Commission needed the payment vouchers for transportion and accommodation, participants’ signatures and video clips.
“They asked me about the remaining money and I told them it was only N200 million that was given to me and they asked me if I was aware that a total of N359 million was released and I told them that Turaki only gave me N200 million and told me it was only N200million that was released,” Tahir told the court.
Prosecution counsel, M.S. Abubakar tendered before the court, the witness’ appointment letter, schedule of duties, memo the witness sent to the then President Jonathan, memo he sent to Turaki, approval given by the then president, minutes of the then president’s approval of the memo. All were admitted in evidence by the court.
Justice Ekwo adjourned the matter to September 21, 22 and 23, 2020 for cross-examination of witness and continuation of trial.
It could be recalled that Turaki, SAN, was arraigned on May 4, 2020 before Justice Ekwo of the Federal High Court, Abuja. Arraigned with him were his special assistant, Sampson Okpetu and two companies: Samtee Essentials Limited and Pasco Investment Limited.
Turaki, SAN, was the Minister for Special Duties and Inter-Governmental Affairs from 2013 to 2015. He also served as the Minister of Labour from 2014 to 2015.