A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has fixed April 27 for its judgment in the case filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) seeking the final forfeiture of two houses in Ilorin, Kwara State, belonging to a former Senate President, Dr Bukola Saraki.
Justice Rilwan Aikawa fixed the date on Thursday after listening to arguments for and against the final forfeiture of the houses to the Federal Government.
In its submission before the court, counsel to the anti-graft agency, Rotimi Oyedepo, said the former Senate President spent N1.09 billion on the two houses, funds which he alleged were stolen from the coffers of Kwara State.
The EFCC claimed that it had evidence that Saraki, who was Kwara State governor between 2003 and 2011, diverted not less than N1 billion belonging to the state.
It later obtained an interim order temporarily forfeiting the houses – Plots No. 10 and No. 11 Abdulkadir Road, GRA, Ilorin, Kwara State – to the Federal Government On December 2, 2019.
The commission urged the court to make the interim forfeiture order permanent, a move that Saraki, through his lawyer, Mr Kehinde Ogunwunmiju, vehemently opposed.
In an affidavit filed before the court, an officer of the EFCC, Bilikisu Buhari, said the anti-graft agency found that while he was governor, Saraki allegedly diverted N100 million on a monthly basis from the federal allocation to the state.
She claimed that the money was usually diverted from the Kwara State government account to the account of the Kwara State Government House.
Buhari added that following the transfer, one Mr Afeez Yusuf, acting on Saraki’s instructions, usually went to withdraw the money from the Kwara State Government House account and took the case to the Government House.
She said, “After the funds were stacked in the Kwara State Government House, it was then fraudulently dissipated and taken away in cash by Messrs Abdul Adama, Ubi Ofem and Ubi Austin, acting on the instructions and direction of Dr Bukola Saraki in violent breach of public trust.
“That in this scheme of fraud alone, about N10 billion was fraudulently diverted from the treasury of the Kwara State government.
“That part of the proceeds of the aforementioned fraud were reasonably suspected to have been comingled with other funds used for the development of the property sought to be forfeited.”
Buhari said Adama, Ofem, and Austin, using fictitious names, usually paid the diverted N100 million into the bank accounts of contractors who built the houses.
Opposing the application for the final forfeiture of his client’s houses, Ogunwunmiju who is a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), said they were built from his legitimate earnings.
He said N252.2 million out of the N1.09 billion used for developing the property represented what Saraki was paid for the development of a five-bedroom apartment, which he was entitled to as a two-term governor of Kwara State.
Ogunwunmiju also drew the attention of Justice Aikawa to the Governor and Deputy Governor (Payment of Pension) Law 2010 of Kwara State, which stipulated that an elected two-term governor of the state was entitled to a five and four-bedroomed duplex, respectively, at any location of their choice within Kwara State.
He said rather than allow the state to build the house for him, Saraki chose to collect N252.2 million so he could add money to it to build a house to his taste.
The lawyer argued that if it was true, as alleged by the EFCC that the document leading to the release of the N252.2 million was forged by an official of the Kwara State Government, the payment to Saraki was still not illegitimate because it was provided for under the law.
He, therefore, asked the court to dismiss the EFCC’s application for being an abuse of court processes, saying the same issues had been taken before the Code of Conduct Tribunal, the Court of Appeal, and the Supreme Court where Saraki was vindicated.
But counsel to the EFCC, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, countered by insisting that as long as Saraki failed to explain how he came about the over N700 million, which he added to the N252.2 million to develop the houses, they were liable to be forfeited to the Federal Government.
After the arguments that lasted over five hours, Justice Aikawa fixed April 27 for judgment.