Clement Illoh, former Permanent Secretary on Wednesday told an Ikeja Special Offences Court that he did not steal N14.1 million from the defunct Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P).
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) arraigned Illoh of the Ministry of Labour and Productivity, on Oct. 16, 2017 on a three-count charge bordering on stealing by conversion of property to the tune of N14.1 million.
The commission closed its case against the defendant on May 16, after fielding four prosecution witnesses.
Illoh, who opened his defence on Wednesday, claimed the alleged stolen funds were legally sourced from the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA).
Led in evidence by Mr U. Onwukwe, his counsel, the former permanent secretary said he did not steal the N14.1million neither did he divert N7 million to Mrs Theresa Braimoh.
“It is not true that I hid or disguised the source of the funds of N14.1 million.
“My Lord, the said N14.1 million was not a proceed of contract neither was it an advance given to the Ministry of Labour.
“It was a grant given by the Maritime Legal Department of NIMASA to the Ministry of Labour,” he said.
The ex-permanent secretary said the money, which was allegedly paid into his personal bank account called Clement and Bob Associates, was for organising meetings of two departments of NIMASA and Ministry of Labour.
“We made a request for fund which NIMASA and Ministry of Labour collaborate annually.
“The funds came about from a request given to the Maritime Labour Department of NIMASA, an application for an advance was made and the funds were released.
“The N14.1 million was meant to organise a meeting of the Maritime Labour Section, it could not be used to organise a meeting of the Labour Advisory Council as it was not enough.
“N30 million was initially requested for organising the Labour Advisory Council meeting but N14.1million was approved and that was what we used for the meetings at the grassroots level.
“The N14.1million was split into two halves of N7 million each for the meeting of the NIMASA section in Lagos and that of Labour in Abuja,” he said.
Illoh told the court that the N14.1million paid into Clement and Bob Associates, his personal bank account was for logistic reasons.
“The money was a non personal advance granted to the Maritime Labour Department of NIMASA; we were not given cash because of the associated risks.
“We gave them an account for safety and monitoring and it was paid into Clement and Bob Associates Accounts.
“A non-personal advance cannot be paid into the Ministry’s account because it was not budgeted for and could not be accessed because of the cashless policy.
“That is why we paid it into the Clement and Bob Associates account.
“We have been doing this for years, we cannot pay such funds into the account of officers, it is an issue of disbursement and not approval because the money was already approved,” he said.
Illoh said that N3.5 million, which was the funds leftover from the N14.1million budgeted for the meetings was expended on logistics, honorarium, stationeries and transport.
“The N3.5 million was disbursed by Mr John Tsonwa, my late Special Assistant,” the ex-Permanent Secretary said.
Illoh was responsible for supervising numerous programmes, including SURE-P and allegedly awarded fictitious contracts to himself via his company and friends.
The alleged diverted SURE-P funds were said to be sourced from NIMASA.
The offences contravened Sections 279 (1), (b) and 285 (6) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2011.
He, however, denies the charges.
Justice Oluwatoyin Taiwo adjourned the case until Oct. 25 and Oct. 26 for continuation of defence.