N754m NIMASA fraud: Employees’ statements to EFCC voluntary, court insists

An Ikeja High Court on Friday ruled that the statements of two ex-employees of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Ezekiel Agaba and Ekene Nwakuche, to the EFCC were voluntarily made.

Agaba, a former Executive Director of the agency and Nwakuche, a Personal Assistant, had alleged that their statements to the anti-graft agency were made under duress and, therefore, inadmissible.

They alleged that Mr. Orji Chukwuma, an investigator with the anti-graft agency, had coerced them into writing incriminating statements during interrogation at the EFCC office.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Agaba and Nwakuche are standing trial alongside Patrick Akpobolokemi, a former Director-General of NIMASA and four others.

The others are Governor Juan, Vincent Udoye, Adegboyega Olopoenia and a company, Gama Marine Nigeria Ltd.

They are facing a 13-count charge bordering on conspiracy to steal, fraud and stealing of N754 million belonging to NIMASA.

They all denied the charges.

Mr. Rotimi Oyedepo, counsel to the EFCC, had objected to the defence counsel, Mr. E.D. Onyeke’s submission that the statements were in their original form and were relevant to the facts of the case.

Justice Raliatu Adebiyi had ordered a trial-within-trial on Nov. 30, 2016 to determine if the statements to the EFCC were involuntarily made.

Adebiyi held that from the trial-within-trial, the statements by the defendants were admissible.

“The burden of proof to prove that the statements were voluntarily made lies with the prosecution.

“The second defendant (Agaba) said he was denied access to his lawyers at the EFCC office and that he was threatened and allowed to write only what was approved by the EFCC operatives,” the judge said.

She noted that Agaba during the trial-within-trial failed to provide a medical doctor to prove his claims that the EFFC waged psychological warfare on him during interrogation.

“The court finds that there is no evidence of oppression and the prosecution was able to prove that there was no oppression during the taking of the statements.”

The court held that Nwakuche had on Feb. 27, while testifying during the trial-within-trial said that during interrogation, Chukwuma, had promised to not use any incriminating evidence in his statements against him in court.

Adebiyi held that the alleged promise was not legally binding.

She added: “Nwakuche is well educated and he told the court that he has a B.Sc and by virtue of his education, he understood that the cautionary words which were given before he wrote his statements.

“The cautionary words state `whatever you write may be used against you in a court of law’.

“The third defendant also has no evidence before the court to prove that he was denied access to his counsel by the prosecution.

“The statements of the second defendant dated Aug. 20, 2015, Aug. 21, 2015, Sept. 21, 2015, Sept. 29, 2015, Oct. 14, 2015 and Oct. 18, 2015 are all tendered and admitted in evidence.

“The statements of the third defendant dated Aug. 30, 2015, Oct. 6, 2015, Oct. 14, 2015, Oct. 15, 2015, Oct. 16, 2015 and Oct. 30, 2015 are all tendered and admitted in evidence.”

The case was adjourned until July 10 to July 12 for continuation of trial.
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