- No, it was pension, Kwara govt
From Godwin Tsa, Abuja
THE trial of Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki continued yesterday with more revelations of how he received monthly salaries worth millions of naira for over four years after he had left office as governor of Kwara State in May, 2011.
Besides the monthly salaries, Saraki was also said to have drawn huge monthly pension he fixed for himself while in office as chief executive.
Ninety lawyers announced their appearance for Saraki.
Kanu Agabi (SAN), Saraki’s lead counsel jocularly, told Danladi Umar, chairman of the tribunal, that he would go down in history as one of the judges before whom the highest number of lawyers appeared.
In his evidence in chief, the staff of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Michael Wetkas, who had on Tuesday revealed how over N600,000 was paid into the defendants account 50 times in one day further told the court that in May 2011, Saraki was paid N29,134 as salary in his capacity as governor of Kwara State.
According to the witness, in June, Saraki was paid N572,286.32k. In August, his salary account with Guaranty Trust Bank was credited with N744,002.22k. In September, he received N743,942.22k and N1,165,466.12k in October. In December, he received same amount as October but twice (December 27 and 28, 2011).
The witness added that Saraki continued to receive same amount monthly as pension and salary until August 31, 2015, when the payment stopped after case had been filed against him by the EFCC.
The witness further told the tribunal that the source of the money was from the Kwara State government.
Wetkas disclosed that as at June 3, 2015, the balance in Saraki’s salary account stood at N52, 372.417.61.
However, PW1 said on the same day, there was a debit transfer of N30 million by Saraki. He said another transaction of N25 million was made from the account on June 4, 2015.
The prosecution witness disclosed that by the time the account was closed on September 16, 2015, there was a balance of N599, 091.63 only.
In another stunning revelations, Wetkas said there were lodgements by different individuals up to 87 times into Saraki’s account on October 26, 2009.
“These payments were made to pay back the loans collected from the bank. Before the payment, the account was in debit balance.”
As the evidence began to pour in, the bewildered Senate president sat in the dock gazing at the prosecution counsel even as his supporters were dumbfounded.
Asked by the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs on why there were different lodgements, the witness said it was to circumvent the Money Laundering Act, which frowns at heavy lodgements, hence, the amount was broken down into several lodgements.
The PW1 also testified that deposit slips were erroneously filled and sometimes, one handwriting filled the slips. The bank management also said the suspicious transactions were reported to the Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), he said.
He told the Tribunal that his team had requested for the three personal accounts belonging to Saraki from GTB. Part of the request was the loans statement on the naira account.
“Our letter of request was also sent to GTB on the naira personal account of the defendant. Same letter of request was sent to banks on his dollar and pounds sterling accounts,” he said.
The Witness attached certificate of identification of atatement of account tendered petitions from Kwara Freedom Network dated June 7, 2012, asking EFCC to investigate the monthly revenue account between 2003 and 2011 of the 16 local government areas in Kwara State and three petitions emanating from Concerned Pensioners of Nigeria, Kwara State chapter.
A total of 25 documents were tendered and admitted as exhibits linking the Senate President with properties he acquired in Lagos, Abuja, United Kingdom and United States of America which he did not declare in his assets declaration forms.
At this stage, counsel to Saraki, Kanu Agabi expressed the need to carefully study the documents tendered by the prosecution.
Chairman, Code of Conduct Tribunal admitted the documents in evidence as parts of exhibits in the case.
But the Director General of the Abubakar Bukola Saraki Constituency Office, otherwise known as Mandate, Abdulwahab Isa, has explained that the pension paid into a special account has been managed by a group of trustees and used for education endowment for students in the state.
Isa in a statement in Ilorin stated that the Senate President does not even have access to the account. He said a group of trustees led by him were mandated to use the money in paying scholarship grants and funds for Joint Admission and Matriculation Board ((JAMB) forms.
“We have also used the money to pay for coaching of students who were preparing for JAMB examinations. For example, the most recent beneficiaries from the funds were two University of Ilorin Faculty of Law students who were the best in their set and needed money for their enrollment into the Nigerian Law School,” he said.
Meanwhile, the support base of the senate shrinked yesterday as only few Senators including the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu were present at the tribunal.
Unlike in the past when more than half of the 108 Senators accompanied him, the number of lawmakers who have remained solidly behind him has drastically reduced.
For instance, 24 Senators accompanied him on Tuesday when trial commenced, but yesterday, the number dwindled to 19, a far cry from the number huge support he enjoyed from his Like Minds group, headed by Senator Dino Melaye.
But a Senator who spoke with Daily Sun, argued that the dwindling number was as a result of the Easter break. He said lawmakers who travelled to their constituencies and outside the country were yet to return to Abuja.
“The poor turnout of Senators has nothing to do with any plan to dump Saraki. We believe he will be vindicated at the end of the day by the Tribunal,” the Senator said.
Another lawmaker who is a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) told Daily Sun that Senators were treading carefully in order not to be publicly seen as supporting the Senate president. He said behind closed doors, the Senate President still enjoys the support of lawmakers.
Meanwhile, Senators jostling to succeed Saraki have intensified their lobby. While the Senate Minority Leader, Godswill Akpabio is being touted to be the consensus candidate of the PDP caucus, there is another plot by the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu to test the waters and succeed Saraki.
Senate Leader, Ali Ndume is equally in contention for the plum job, but his geopolitical zone, the North-east, may work against him, as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Yakubu Dogara is from there.
For now, those that have been named as contenders for the Senate President’s seat have not denied the claims.