The N2.2bn fraud trial of the immediate past Ekiti State Governor, Mr Ayodele Fayose, resumed on Monday with his former ally and former Minister of State for Defence, Musiliu Obanikoro, testifying against him.
However, while being cross-examined by the second defence counsel, Mr Olalekan Ojo (SAN), Obanikoro told the court that he was testifying against Fayose reluctantly, noting that they enjoyed a good relationship while they were both members of the Peoples Democratic Party.
Obanikoro has since defected from the PDP to the ruling All Progressives Congress, while Fayose remains a member of the PDP.
In court on Monday, Obanikoro said despite testifying against Fayose, he wouldn’t want their relationship to be destroyed.
At a point in the course of being grilled by the defence counsel, Obanikoro burst out, “I’m trying to restrain myself from saying things that will further damage our relationship!”
But pushing him further, the defence counsel, Ojo, asked, “So, will it be correct to say that you are giving evidence in this case reluctantly?”
Answering, Obanikoro said, “It’s painful for me to give evidence against him (Fayose); no doubt about it. It is indeed very painful.”
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is prosecuting Fayose for allegedly taking N2.2bn from the office of the National Security Adviser to prosecute his governorship election in 2014.
The EFCC said Fayose received the N2.2bn from then NSA, Sambo Dasuki, through Obanikoro.
At the previous hearing, Obanikoro had admitted taking N2.2bn from Dasuki for onward delivery to Fayose in Ado Ekiti, adding that on Fayose’s instructions, part of the money was changed into US dollars before delivery.
Under cross-examination by the second defence counsel on Monday, Obanikoro affirmed that he took the money to Fayose in Ado Ekiti as a PDP leader, who was carrying out a mission for his political party.
Earlier while cross-examining Obanikoro, the first defence counsel, Chief Kanu Agabi (SAN), asked the ex-minister if he was earlier treated as a suspect by the EFCC while investigating the case.
In reply, Obanikoro said, “I don’t understand; come again.”
“You were yourself investigated?” Agabi insisted.
“Correct,” Obanikoro replied.
“You made your statement (to the EFCC) in defence of yourself?” Agabi asked.
“You can say that,” Obanikoro replied, adding that, “My statement was what transpired and that’s what I gave evidence to.”
Asked whether investigation by the EFCC led to the seizure of some of his properties, Obanikoro said, “No. Not at any time to the best of my knowledge.”
“But there were news reports at the time that some of your assets were seized,” Agabi said.
“They were selling their papers; why should I take issues with them?” Obanikoro queried.
But when later asked if he made a refund of N200m to the EFCC, the ex-minister admitted.
“By making this admission of refund, your being treated as a suspect was justified,” Agabi said.
“You are wrong sir; very wrong,” Obanikoro replied.
He maintained that he did not use any part of the money for personal purposes, adding that he made the N200m refund reluctantly.
“I said I deserve a medal of honour for the protection of Lagos State which we did,” Obanikoro said.
When Agabi suggested to him that he would not have taken up the assignment of delivering the N2.2bn to Fayose if he knew that the transaction was not legitimate, Obanikoro said, “Correct.”
Then Agabi said, “Those who brought you under suspicion were acting in bad faith”.
“Yes,” Obanikoro said.
Agabi also asked him if the statement he made to the EFCC on October 17, 2016 was in response to a petition against him by the NSA, and Obanikoro responded in the affirmative.
Agabi: That petition complained, among other things, that you collected money from the office of the NSA, for projects you did not execute?
Agabi: Did you say, in the course of your examination-in-chief, that it was the NSA that instructed you to furnish your account?
Agabi: If that was so, why will the NSA then turn around and write a petition against you?
Obanikoro: Don’t let us confuse the current NSA with the past NSA. It was the current NSA that wrote the petition against me.
Obanikoro told the court that the N2.2bn he took from Dasuki on Fayose’s behalf was paid into the account of a firm, Sylvan Mcmanara Ltd, owned by one Taiwo Kareem.
Asked what informed the choice of that bank account, Obanikoro said, “We came about that company based on the fact that they made a presentation to then NSA when the issue of security arose in Lagos and he was convinced that they had the capacity to do the job”.
He said it was Dasuki that appointed Kareem as the sole signatory to the account.
“Do you know Gbolahan Obanikoro?” Agabi asked.
“That’s my son,” Obanikoro said, adding that he is 33 years old.
“Are you aware that he made a payment of N20,000 into the account of Sylvan Mcmanara Limited?” Agabi asked.
Obanikoro, who was confronted with the account statement of Sylvan Mcmanara Ltd, said, “That is correct. But it was on May 18, 2012”.
“That was actually the first payment into that account,” Agabi said.
“Correct,” Obanikoro admitted.
“The second payment of N5m was made by your own self,” Agabi said, to which Obanikoro replied, “Correct; September 2012.”
When shown two N5m transfers made to unidentified individuals, Obanikoro said he could not recall who the beneficiaries were and the purpose for the payments.
He was also shown a N50m transfer to Rehoboth Homes and Development, to which he admitted was done on his instructions, but said he could not recall the purpose of the transaction.
“I can’t recall; it must have been one of the sources to get dollars for Mr Fayose because the money was meant for that purpose. I can categorically say that the N50m was for the benefit of the 1st defendant (Fayose),” Obanikoro said.
Further proceedings were adjourned till Tuesday.