Friday, 6 May 2016

Beyond Reasonable Doubt: A Day In The Temple Of Justice Observing Ex-Governor Suswam's Corruption Trial

Today I woke up with my Reporter's state of mind. I felt the compulsion to practice a skill I had abandoned in the search of the proverbial golden fleece. And what greater opportunity is out there than the resumption of the trial of  Gabriel Suswam, the former Governor of Benue State?

Today I woke up with my Reporter's state of mind. I felt the compulsion to practice a skill I had abandoned in the search of the proverbial golden fleece. And what greater opportunity is out there than the resumption of the trial of  Gabriel Suswam, the former Governor of Benue State?

I must confess that I have never in my life been inside a Courtroom. This was my first time! And what a beautiful occasion it turned out to be. All I know about Law and Court procedure is what I have read in books or seen in drama series or movies. This was the first time I stood flesh and blood inside a courtroom.

The trial of Suswam's matter was scheduled for 12noon, and the courtroom was jam-packed with lawyers and well-wishers of both parties in the trial. A sizeable number of pressmen were also present.

The Court Registrar mentioned the case at 1:17 pm because other matters were scheduled before this one. While we were waiting for the case to be mentioned, I watched in awe as the lead defense counsel Joseph Daudu walked in measured steps to take his seat in the front row. What a man mountain he is! The Prosecution counsel Rotimi Jacobs was seated before then.

The Lead Prosecution counsel Rotimi Jacobs called in his Witness Mr. Abubakar Umar to take the witness stand. The first drama of the day began when the Court interpreter who had interpreted in a previous case the same day vanished. Recall that the case was adjourned to today because the interpreter was unavailable the last time the case was scheduled for the hearing. A visibly livid Justice A R Mohammed ordered the court clerk to produce the interpreter immediately. In giving the order, the learned Judge lamented that the translator was aware of his responsibility on this day and had no reason to hold the court hostage by his absence.

While the court waited for the evasive interpreter, the Judge adjudicated in four other cases before the skinny shaped interpreter who walks with a limp showed up behind the Deputy Director of Litigations whom the judge had told must produce him in court.

With the suspense occasioned by the wait for the interpreter over, Mr. Jacobs summoned his witness, Umar to the witness box. A fresh oath was administered to him in Hausa language.

The trial was now in full swing. The witness identified himself as "Abubakar UMAR" and gave his address as Zone 4 Plaza Abuja. He said he is a Trader in Foreign Currency and has been trading under the company name of FanFash Resources LTD since 2014. He claimed he was educated up to secondary school level but dropped out of school. This explains his inability to communicate in English hence the need for a translator. Mr. UMAR further stated that he was an apprentice in the foreign exchange trade since 1990 here in Abuja before he incorporated his Company, FanFash Resources Ltd in 2014.

The prosecutor didn't waste time in asking: "Do you know the first accused Mr. Gabriel Suswam" and he answered in HAUSA "Na San Gabriel Suswam" meaning yes I know Gabriel Suswam. When asked how he knew him, UMAR said he sells foreign currency to him. He was asked to tell the court if he remembered any transaction with Suswam in 2014. And he said Yes. He told the court that sometime in August 2014, Mr. Suswam called him to come over to his Maitama residence. At this stage, Mr. Jacobs asked him if he remembers the telephone number which the former Governor called him with. UMAR gave the number like 08108505050. ( in HAUSA, sepli takwas ,daya, sepli, takwas, Hamsin, Hamsin Hamsin ).

On arrival at Suswam's residence, he met the former governor who was in the company of a beautiful light skinned lady. According to him, the governor instructed that he (UMAR) give his company account to that lady who will pay in some money for conversion to US Dollars. The Currency trader said the first tranche of N413 million was transferred to his account on  August 8th, 2014. Subsequent sums of N637million, N1.1billion, three other sums totalling N3.1billion was were transferred to his account by the same lady.

When asked what the monies were meant for, he said Gov Suswam asked him to change the money to dollars and bring to him. The second phase of the drama commenced when Mr. UMAR changed his narrative and contradicted his written statement. In his written statement, UMAR said he handed over the sum of $15.8million cash directly to Suswam in his Maitama residence. But in his evidence in chief, he said " na Kai kid in gidan gomneti " meaning I took the money to government house.

When asked who he gave the money to, he said I don't know if the money was given to Suswam, but I took the money to Government House. When he was reminded that he swore by the Qur'an to tell the truth and after being shown his written statement, he agreed that he gave the money to Suswam.

Smelling a rat, the EFCC lawyer Mr. Jacobs called for an adjournment to " put his house in order". According to him, the trend of the witness statement shows that his witness has been compromised. He said he had cause recently to complain to Suswam's lawyer, JB Daudu that he suspects strongly that this witness has been interfered with. He, therefore, called for the judge to adjourn the matter. This was after he conferred with the EFCC investigator who handed some documents to him.

The Defence Counsel Mr. Joseph Daudu in opposing the motion for adjournment said he suspects that the complainants, in this case, the EFCC have the means to intimidate or arrest the witness in order to arm twist him to give testimony according to its script. He argued that Mr. Jacobs has the liberty to tender the witness's written statement if he feels he has contradicted himself.

Strangely, one of the Lawyers in Mr. Daudu's team made an oral application for the Court to grant an order restraining the EFCC from arresting or intimidating the witness who by the way is actually a prosecution witness.

In his response, Mr. Jacobs argued that the vehemence with which the defence have sought protection for his own witness confirms the suspicion of an underhand relationship between the defence team and his witness.

While ruling on the application, Justice A R Mohammed said " this case is being prosecuted by Rotimi Jacobs, a senior lawyer and member of the inner bar. I, therefore, do not imagine that with his deep knowledge of the law and being conversant with the procedure here, he will be involved in a dastardly act such as arm twisting a witness who is under oath. The application for witness protection is, therefore, unnecessary. This case is adjourned to 9th and 10th of May for a continuation of hearing".

Like I said earlier, my reporter's instinct never left me throughout the session. For instance, I stood throughout the trial at the back of the courtroom along with some supporters of Mr. Suswam. While Mr. Umar was giving dates of the transfers to his account, I overheard one of Suswam's supporters say in Tiv " Orvesen Ngu aa inyaregh kpor kpor" meaning " the boss has real money. His companion now responded " ke Benue chii ka wen vea David Mark tseegh vea or Kwagh u nyar ye ( in the whole of Benue, only him and David Mark can talk about money)

On my way out of the court, I met a very good friend of mine who was one of Suswam's commissioners. With the full knowledge of the strained relationship between Suswam and me, he said " you don't look happy. Is it because the process didn't go your way". I had a good laugh.

He apparently was excited that the seemingly contradictory statement of the witness meant a vindication of his boss. I pitied him because he is grasping at straws while drowning in an ocean. He perhaps doesn't realize that the issue of who had custody of the $15.8 million is only one aspect of the criminal trial. There are elements like who authorized the sale of shares, who authorized the transfer of Benue money to a Bureau de change etc.

I shall be in court again if my schedule permits. My take away here is, of what use is a sworn oath if it can be wantonly violated? It was an exciting day in the temple of justice.

Citizen Reporter Kenneth Gyado

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