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 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 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 Commission, Rotimi Oyedepo said the Former Senate President spent N1.09bn on the two houses, funds which he alleged were stolen from the coffers of Kwara State.
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The anti-graft agency claimed that it had evidence that Saraki, who was Kwara State governor between 2003 and 2011, diverted not less than N1bn belonging to the state.
On Dec 2, 2019, the agency obtained an interim order temporarily forfeiting the houses – Plots No. 10 and No. 11 Abdulkadir Road, GRA, Ilorin, Kwara State – to the Federal Government.
It is now urging the court to make the interim forfeiture order permanent, a move that Saraki, through his lawyer, Mr Kehinde Ogunwunmiju (SAN), 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 Kwara State governor, Saraki allegedly diverted N100m on a monthly basis from the federal allocation to the state.
She said the N100m was usually diverted from the Kwara State Government account to the account of the Kwara State Government House.
She said 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 N10bn 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 a fictitious name, usually paid the diverted N100m into the bank accounts of contractors who built the houses.
But opposing the application for the final forfeiture of his client’s houses, Saraki’s lawyer, Ogunwunmiju, said they were built from his legitimate earnings.
The SAN said N252.2m out of the N1.09bn 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 pointed 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 N252.2m so he could add money to it to build a house to his taste.
Ogunwunmiju argued that if it was true, as alleged by the EFCC, that the document leading to the release of the N252.2m 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 for the EFCC, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, countered by insisting that as long as Saraki failed to explain how he came about the over N700m, which he added to the N252.2m to develop the houses, they were liable to be forfeited to the Federal Government.
After arguments that lasted for over five hours, Justice Aikwa fixed April 27 for judgment.