It was a day Patrick Akpobolokemi never thought would come. For the former Director General of the National Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), the last thing on his mind Monday November 5, 2018 was the betrayal of some of his very close aids who were on trial with him before an Ikeja High Court over alleged fraud of N754.8 million that belonged to NIMASA and Federal government of Nigeria. But when it came, something turned in his stomach! The court had to stop proceedings two times for him to use the toilet. It was what the late Afro beat meastro, Fela Anikulapo Kuti will call “expensive shit”!
Akpobolokemi had been on trial for over a year on the fraud. He is on trial with some of his former directors and aides. They are Ezekiel Agaba, Ekene Nwakuche, Governor Juan, Vincent Udoye, and Adegboyega Olopoenia. A company, Gama Marine Nigeria Limited is also on trial with them.
At the last adjourned date, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had notified the trial judge, Justice Raliatu Adebiyi of the agency’s intention to file fresh charges against the accused persons. What Akpobolokemi did not know was that EFCC had struck a deal with some of his co -travellers in a plea bargain to become state witnesses in return for light sentences.
There was therefore a mild drama during the proceedings on the fateful Monday as three co-defendants, Nwakuche, Juan, and Olopoenia were announced by EFCC lawyer, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo as state witnesses. Following the plea deal, Akpolokemi now faces trial alongside Agaba and Udoye who are both former Executive Directors of NIMASA.
The trio face a 12-count charge of conspiracy, forgery and stealing a N687.2 million. They plead not guilty to the charges.
When he realised that the tide had turned, Akpolokemi developed a severe case of diarrhea. Proceedings had to be stood-down on two occasions to enable the ex-NIMASA Director-General use the restroom.
Mr Ekene Nwakuche, Akpobolokemi’s former co-defendant who is the tenth prosecution witness and a former Personal Assistant (PA) to Adaba testified against the embattled maritime bosses.
Nwakuche while being led in evidence by Mr Oyedepo, the lead EFFC prosecutor, narrated to the court how the three defendants allegedly embezzled funds while at the helm of affairs at NIMASA.
Nwakuche said he was privy to a lot of illegal transactions as a result of being a Personal Assistant to Agaba. “I know the first defendant Patrick Akpobolokemi, he was the Director-General (DG) of NIMASA, he was Captain Ezekiel Agaba’s boss, Mr Vincent Udoye was the Head, Maritime Safety and Seafarers Standard, he was a Director at NIMASA.
“My Lord in 2014, the then DG of NIMASA set up a committee on Voluntary International Maritime Organisation Member State Audit Scheme (VIMSAS) and Agaba was the Chairman, we had other members from different departments as well as stakeholders.
“As Agaba’s PA, I was privy to 90 percent of the developments and I had to go to most meetings with him,” Nwakuche said. The former PA revealed to the court that in order to syphon funds, NIMASA budgets were inflated by the defendants before taken to the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA) for approval.
During his evidence, Nwakuche was shown two exhibits- Exhibit 9 which was a budget for N318 million and Exhibit 10 which was a budget for N498.2 million. Responding, he said “The little I know is that when we put the first budget together, and sent it to the DG (Akpobolokemi) or Agaba the Executive Director (ED), the amounts were never the same with what we requested, it always goes higher.
“I don’t know if it goes higher at the office of the DG or the ED. “
Nwakuche said that a VIMSAS account was opened in Zenith Bank on Aug. 29, 2014 and N198 million was paid into the account while on June 20, 2014, N300 million was paid into the account from the office of the NSA. The former PA noted that he had made various withdrawals worth millions of Naira on behalf of Agaba and that funds were illegally transferred into bank accounts belonging to acquaintances of the defendants.
“On Sep. 29, 2014 there was a debit of N11 million which was made into the account of Lakewood Garden Venture Ltd, the beneficiary was Captain Aneke, a Maritime Commandant in NIMASA. I do not know what he got the N11million for because he was not part of VIMSAS and I don’t know any product or service or product Lakewood Gardens provided to VIMSAS.
“On 23, Feb. 2015, there was a transfer of N10 million to Mr Bongos Ikwe, he is an associate of Agaba, they are both from Benue State, I guess the money was for a land transaction,” he said. Nwakuche said that funds that were approved for VIMSAS by the office of the NSA were withdrawn from the bank, converted to dollars and handed over to Akpolokemi and Agaba.
He said the total deposit to the VIMSAS account was N816 million and that N752.3 million was debited by the defendants a total of 36 times.
Nwakuche noted that a company called Arrow Head Consulting was allegedly used by the defendants to embezzle VIMSAS funds. He revealed to the court that the company’s documents were forged to perpetuate fraud at NIMASA.
He said: “Arrow World Consulting was not a consultant to VIMSAS, it was a company brought in by Agaba, it was supposed to be a Redundant Security Organisation (RSO) but the name of the company was used for the transactions.
“The monies paid into the account were differences, if there was a difference between the money requested in the budget and the money received, we paid the difference into Arrow World Consulting.
Anytime these monies came, we change them into dollars, the ED (Agaba) said it was for the DG (Akpobolokemi) and that it was for the people in Abuja, that was the impression given to me.
“On Oct. 30, 2013, I transfered N35.6 million and N61.7 million to Copa Bala, a Bureau de Change. The funds were changed to dollars and taken to the ED (Agaba) “At a point, I had more than $2 million dollars in my possession for the ED in my house, I was taking it piecemeal to his house, sometimes I give some of the money to him in his office or in his car.”
All through the proceedings Akpobolokemi sweated profusely, using a peice of handerchief to wipe his face.
Justice Raliatu Adebiyi adjourned the case until Nov. 30 for continuation of trial.
In the fresh charges, Akpobolokemi, Agaba and Udoye are alleged to have committed the offence of conspiracy on Aug. 29, 2014. According to Oyedepo “Between the Oct. 30, 2014 and the May 6 2015 In Lagos the three defendants stole N346.8 million property of NIMASA released to them for the implementation of VIMSAS. “On May 28, 2015, Akpobolokemi and Agaba converted to their own use N257 million.
“Udoye on Feb. 2, 2015 with a dishonest intent converted to his own use the sum of N67.4 million and N16 million belonging to NIMASA. “
The anti-graft agency also. alleged that Akpobolokemi and Agaba had allegedly on Jan. 20, April 28 and May 25, 2015, forged documents purported to have been issued by Arrow World Consulting.
The offences contravene Sections 285, 363 and 409 of the Criminal Code Laws of Lagos State 2011