Hearing in the N200m fundamental rights enforcement suit filed by the wife of ex-President Goodluck Jonathan, Patience, against Skye Bank Plc and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission began on Tuesday, with a former aide of the President, Waripamo-Owei Dudafa, testifying for the ex-First Lady.
Patience filed the suit in 2016 to challenge the ‘No Debit Order’ placed by the EFCC on four Skye Bank accounts having a total of $15, 591,700.
Though the four accounts were said to be opened in the names of four companies linked to Dudafa, Patience filed the suit to lay claim to the money.
Apart from Skye Bank and the EFCC, Dudafa and the four companies were also joined as defendants in the suit.
The names of the companies were given as Pluto Property and Investment Company Limited; Seagate Property Development and Investment Company Limited; Trans Ocean Property and Investment Company Limited; and Avalon Global Property Development Limited.
At the hearing opening of the hearing on Tuesday, Dudafa entered the witness box to testify in favour of Patience against the EFCC and other defendants.
Led by Patience’s lawyer, Mr. G.I. Abibo (SAN), Dudafa adopted his witness’ statement on oath and urged Justice Mohammed Idris to adopt same as his evidence in the case.
He was then handed over to the EFCC lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, for cross-examination.
Oyedepo started by asking Dudafa if he knew one Festus Iyoha, to which Dudafa answered in the affirmative, explaining that Iyoha was “a presidential steward; a steward that was attached to the President, the Commander-in-Chief.”
He was also asked if he knew one Peter, to which he also answered in the affirmative, explaining that Peter was also a presidential steward.
Oyedepo then faced Dudafa, saying, “You had cause to instruct these two persons that you have identified as stewards to the President to take hard currency for onward delivery to Bureau de Change operators, particularly one Abubakar Murtala.”
Responding, Dudafa rejected the suggestion, saying he never gave the stewards any instructions of his own but rather relayed to them instructions by the President and his wife.
“As you know, I was a servant, a domestic assistant to the President. By virtue of my position, I never had power to give instructions. I could only relay instructions of the then President and his wife to any aide that was available, including Festus and Peter,” Dudafa said.
When Oyedepo posed the question again, insisting that Dudafa had yet to answer it, Dudafa threw back at him, “I will not be cowed or cajoled. I am under oath; probably Mr. Rotimi needs to be educated about the workings of the Presidency.”
Seeing the stand-off between Oyedepo and Dudafa, Chief Mike Ozekhome (SAN), who is also a defence counsel in the case, rose and told the judge that Dudafa had already answered the question.
But a heated argument soon ensued between Ozekhome and Oyedepo, with the latter alleging that the former was prejudicing his case.
It took the intervention of other SANs, Messrs Ifedayo Adedipe and Lanre Ogunlesi, to calm frayed nerves, after which Oyedepo went back to Dudafa, posing the same question, and insisting that he must answer it.
“In the course of your official duty, you handed over hard currency to Peter and Festus for onward delivery to a Bureau de Change operator, Murtala,” Oyedepo insisted.
Responding, Dudafa said, “I relayed different instructions from the President and his wife and the instruction can come in the form of ‘Dudafa, give this money to BDC, change it to dollars’. But if you say I did it, it was as if I did it on my own volition.
“Several times, the President and his wife gave me money, naira to exchange for dollars, which I relayed.”
But Oyedepo insisted that “it was not the President and his wife that did the physical handing over of the money.”
“I will not agree!” Dudafa said. “It could be that the President was in his bedroom and said, ‘Dudafa, take this money, give it to Festus in the sitting room.’ It doesn’t mean I was the one who gave the money to Festus. What is the problem with relaying message? If by my position, I could enter the President’s bedroom, I don’t know how that becomes a problem.”
When Oyedepo, however, insisted, Dudafa later conceded that he was the one who handed over the money to the presidential stewards.
Asked if he was aware that some of the cash sums were “in excess of $500,000 and $1m per day,” Dudafa said he did not know, because “I didn’t make the payments.”
“You were in constant communication via text messages with Mr. Abubakar Murtala,” Oyedepo said.
“The communication was basically ‘what is the exchange rate today?”
But Oyedepo insisted that Dudafa knew the cash sums.
He later asked him if he was aware that at the time he was taking money for Patience to the BDC operator, Patience was a Permanent Secretary in the employ of the Bayelsa State Government, but Dudafa said he was not aware as it was not part of his schedule to know.
Further proceedings in the case have been adjourned till March 26, 2018.