A staff of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) and prosecution witness, Ekene Nwakuche, has said that a former Director-General of the agency, Patrick Akpobolokemi, inflated the agency’s budget to embezzle funds.
Akpobolokemi is facing trial before an Ikeja High Court, Lagos alongside a former Executive Director of the agency, Ezekiel Agaba and a Director, Vincent Udoye. The three are facing a 12-count charge of conspiracy, forgery and stealing N687.2 million. They, however, pleaded not guilty to the charges.
Nwakuche, who was a Personal Assistant to Agaba while being cross-examined by Kunle Gbolahan, Akpobolokemi’s Defence Counsel, told the court that in order to allegedly siphon funds, draft budgets for the agency were always inflated by the defendants.
“I am not the Personal Assistant to the first defendant (Akpobolokemi) but rather to Agaba. What they (the defendants) do is that they request that we do a draft budget, present it to them and they have a meeting between themselves and readjust and increase the budget.
“It is not possible for me to present the draft budget here in court because the draft budget that is made is usually destroyed,” he said.
While being cross-examined by E. D. Onyeke, Agaba’s Defence Counsel, Nwakuche revealed that he was not a member of the Voluntary International Maritime Organisation Member State Audit Scheme (VIMSAS) set up by Akpobolokemi in 2014.
According to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), a VIMSAS bank account received funds from the office of the National Security Adviser (NSA), which was allegedly embezzled by the defendants.
“The defendants never held VIMSAS meetings to discuss budget or expenditure, they held meetings on audit. I was at those meetings. I never write my name on the minutes but my boss, Mr Udoye and others can testify.
“The second defendant (Agaba) only reported to the first defendant (Akpobolokemi) how the funds of the VIMSAS committee were expended,” Nwakuche further told the court.
The witness noted that there was no official letter available that stated that projects budgeted in 2014 and 2015 by VIMSAS were not executed.
Nwakuche also denied being a staff of Arrow World Consulting, a firm the EFCC alleged was used by the defendants to steal funds from the agency.
“I have no memo or document where the second defendant asked me to forget Arrow World documents,” he said.
Before turning preosecution witnesses, Nwakuche, Governor Juan and Captain Ade Olopoenia were initially facing trial alongside the three defendants over an alleged N754.8 million fraud committed in NIMASA.
But following a plea deal with the EFCC, the charges against Nwakuche, Juan and Olopoenia were dropped in exchange for them testifying for the EFCC.
According to the anti-graft commission; Akpobolokemi, Agaba and Udoye are alleged to have committed the offence on August 29, 2014.
Lead EFCC prosecutor, Rotimi Oyedepo, said, “Between 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 N257 million to their own use.
“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 EFCC alleged that Akpobolokemi and Agaba, on January 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.
Justice Raliatu Adebiyi adjourned the case until March 4 for continuation of the cross-examination of the witness.