Abuja High Court was yesterday told that the chairman of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, Justice Danladi Umar, met severally in his chamber with an accused person, Mr. Rasheed Taiwo Owolabi, a retired Deputy Comptroller-General of the Nigerian Customs Service, who was standing trial before him on false assets declaration charges.
Former personal assistant to the CCT chairman, Mr. Ali Gambo Abdullahi told the court while giving evidence in the trial-within-trial on the disputed statement he made to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, in respect of N10million bribe allegedly demanded by the CCT chairman from the accused person, in order to strike out the charges against him.
The witness, who was cross-examined by the EFCC counsel, Mr. Andrew Akoja, told Justice Chizoba Oji that it was at the end of the last meeting of the accused person with the CCT chairman that a sum of N1.8million was paid into his account by the ex-customs chief.
However, contrary to his statement made on august 12, 2013, that the N1.8million was part of the N10million bribe meant for the CCT chairman, the witness said that the money was deposited into his Zenith Bank account by the accused person to offset the medical bill of his ailing father.
The witness further told the court that he never met with the former Deputy Comptroller-General of Customs until he started visiting the CCT chairman in the course of his trial, and that the money was paid to him immediately after the last visit to the CCT boss.
Confronted with the statement where he implicated the CCT chairman on the N10million bribery saga, Abdullahi said that his statement on the issue was made under duress and based on inducement promised him by two operatives of the EFCC – Abdulmajeed Ibrahim and Bala Mohammed – who investigated the petition of the former customs chief in the matter.
In further cross-examined by the EFCC counsel, the witness who read out some portions of the statement identified his signature and admitted that he signed the statement and that he also signed an attestation confirming that his statement was made freely and voluntarily by him.
Earlier in his evidence-in-chief, Abdullahi told the court that he was a protocol officer at the CCT when he was employed in 2009, and that he later became the personal assistant the chairman.
He told the court that he got to know the former customs officer during his numerous visits to his boss and that in the last visit, Owolabi met him with sympathisers on the plight of his father and that his father’s plight of that prompted the payment of N1.8million to cater for his father.
The witness said that on August 12, 2013, he was invited into EFCC office in Abuja where he was confronted with a petition from the said Rasheed Owolabi Taiwo on the alleged N10million bribery deal, and that he made a statement on the same day and was allowed to go home on administrative bail, but with a condition to be visiting EFCC twice a week pending the completion of investigation.
He also informed the court that the following day, two directors from CCT followed him to the EFCC to perfect his bail condition and that in the course of his several visits to the EFCC, he made several statements in addition to that of August 12, 2013.
The witness said that the additional statements where he exonerated the CCT chairman was the true reflection of what transpired on the N10million bribe and not his first statement of August 12, where he implicated the CCT boss as the beneficiary of the N1.8million bribe.
He denied that his other statements where he exonerated the CCT boss were after-thoughts, adding that he was made to implicate his boss under duress and promises of inducements.
Meanwhile, the trial judge, Justice Chizoba Oji, has adjourned adoption of addresses in the matter till October 20, 2016.
Nigerian Pilot recalls that the witness had been arraigned before the court on charges of giving false information, but his denial of his first statement on the bribery issue prompted the trial-within-trial by Justice Oji to determine his claim of duress before admitting the statement in evidence as exhibit.

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