An Abuja-based businessman, Mr. Nkem Ahidjo, claimed on Friday that N35m out of the N8.5bn allegedly diverted by retired Maj. Gen. Emmanuel Atewe was paid to the Living Faith Church, popularly known as Winners’ Chapel.
Atewe served as the Commander of the military Joint Task Force, Operation Pulo Shield, in the Niger Delta before his retirement.
He was last week re-arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission for an alleged fraud of N8.5bn, which the EFCC claimed was perpetrated during the operation.
He is facing 22 counts before Justice A.O. Faji of the Federal High Court in Lagos.
The other defendants in the case are a former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency, Patrick Akpobolokemi; Kime Engozu and Josephine Otuaga.
The EFCC accused them of conspiring among themselves to divert N8.5bn from Operation Pulo Shield between September 5, 2014, and May 20, 2015, using six companies.
The six companies were listed as Jagan Ltd; Jagan Trading Company Ltd; Jagan Global Services Ltd; Al-Nald Ltd; Paper Warehouse Ltd; Eastpoint Integrated Services Ltd and De-Newlink Integrated Services Ltd.
They had been arraigned on three occasions and had on each occasion pleaded not guilty to the offence.
In a bid to prove its allegations, however, the EFCC called Ahidjo as its first witness on Friday.
Led in evidence by the EFCC prosecutor, Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, Ahidjo introduced himself as a businessman, who dealt in stationeries, printing, and general contracts.
The witness said he carried on his trade under his five companies based in Abuja, adding that he was a registered contractor with the National Assembly, the National Population Commission, and the Independent National Electoral Commission, to which he made supplies.
He claimed to have known Atewe from Villa Church in Abuja, where they both worshiped, as of when the retired general was still a Guard Commander.
The witness said, being a pentecostal, he also attended Living Faith Church, and Atewe also worshiped there.
He said he cultivated a good relationship with Atewe, to the extent that he attended “midnight church” in Atewe’s house in Abuja, three times a week.
Ahidjo narrated to the court how Atewe moved to Bayelsa between July and September 2014 where he served as JTF Commander.
“He invited me to Bayelsa and I went. He told me that the Federal Government gave JTF a grant for security and building of barracks and if I have any company into which account money could be paid. And being somebody I knew very well from Guard Commander to Major General, I provided the companies that I listed earlier,” Ahidjo said.
The witness said on a second invitation and visit to Atewe in Bayelsa, Atewe told him that three payments were about to be made into his accounts and as soon as they were made he should acknowledge the payments and await further instructions.
He said within two to three days of the meeting, he started to receive the payments and accordingly informed Atewe, who asked him to hold on till he (Atewe) returned to Abuja.
The witness said upon Atewe’s return to Abuja, he invited him to his office at Niger Barracks in Abuja, where he introduced, Engozu, who is the 3rd defendant, as the person that would take delivery of the money from Ahidjo.
Ahidjo said in view of the volume of the monies, Engozu advised him to change the money from naira to dollar before delivery, and he accordingly contacted a Bureau de Change operator, named only as Jimoh.
“Each time I received it (money), I would call a BDC operator, named Jimoh. I knew him before this time. He would change the money, I would pay him the naira equivalent and take the dollars. Once I changed it, I would wait for instruction either from Major General Atewe or Mr. Kime. That was what we continued to do until the end of the transaction in 2015,” Ahidjo said.
He said he received a total of N4,915,163,103 within the period, out of which about N4.1bn were converted to dollars and delivered to Engozu, who in turn issued a receipt for each payment based on Atewe’s instruction.
Ahidjo said of the remaining amount, he was instructed by Atewe to transfer N35m to Winners’ Chapel; N103m to INP Ltd; N170m to First Investment Ltd; N99m to Lord Fem Ltd; N88m to Ocean Gas and N297m to Cisco Nobot.
Asked by the prosecutor the purpose of the transfer to Living Faith Church, Ahidjo said, “I don’t know what it was for; it was on the instruction of Maj. Gen. Atewe. All these monies, I don’t question what they were meant for. It is not my money, so I can’t question what it was for. Maj. Gen. Atewe asked me to act on instruction.”
Justice Faji adjourned till March 21, 2017, for Ahidjo to continue his evidence.