A prosecution witness, Mr Daniel Okoye, on Wednesday narrated before an Ikeja Special Offences Court how some executive members of the Ikeja Branch of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) allegedly defrauded the body of over N20 million.
The witness testified at the resumed trial of two former Chairmen of the branch – Adeshina Ogunlana and Yinka Farounbi; and a former Treasurer – Arinola Kappo.
They were charged by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on 30 counts of stealing and money laundering.
Led in evidence by prosecution counsel, Mr. S.O. Daji, Okoye, who described himself as a foundation member of the branch, said the branch’s funds were siphoned by the former executives.
He said:”I got close to Ogunlana and Farounbi when I lost my partner and friend of 35-years who was a bona fide member of NBA, Ikeja Branch; my friend who left behind a widow and five children had paid for insurance.
“I had several meetings with Ogunlana and Farounbi and I realised that something was wrong in the administration of funds in the branch.
“I shared my thoughts with some other concerned financial members of the branch, and we decided to carry out an investigation.
“The result of the investigation was mind-boggling, and we wrote a petition to the National President of the NBA, Mr A. B Mahmoud (SAN), and the General Secretary of the NBA, Mr Isiaka Olagunju.”
According to the witness, the petitioners stated the fact of their investigation which was that the branch’s Wema Bank account was still being operated by the Farounbi and Kappo after their tenure expired.
“This is contrary to the succinct provisions of the NBA Bye-laws for Branches, 2015.’’
The witness said that Farounbi and Kappo breached the law which made it mandatory for all officials of the branch to handover to their successors within seven days of the expiration of their tenures.
He also noted that NBA offices were voluntary in nature and did not attract salaries or allowances.
Okoye said that it came to his attention and the attention of some other members of the branch that, cheques for over N30 million were fraudulently signed by Farounbi and Kappo in favour of Ogunlana.
“Surprisingly, our petition was ignored by the national body of the NBA; we attempted to raise it on the floor of the NBA, Ikeja branch, meeting but the four petitioners – myself, Gabriel Opayinka, Olubunmi Odeniyu and Richard Nwankwo were ignored.
“We were left with no option than to contact the EFCC via a petition dated June 1, 2018, with the EFCC subsequently inviting me to write a statement.
“The money was paid into Ogunlana’s account contrary to Article 13, Paragraph 3 and 4 of the NBA Uniform Bye-laws of 2013.
“The money was paid into Ogunlana’s First Bank Account; he was carrying the money and disbursing it at will,” he said.
He also testified that Ogunlana collected cash running into millions of naira from the bar clerk.
“He is neither the treasurer nor financial secretary; so, there was no need to collect financial impress,” Okoye said.
While being cross-examined by defence counsel, Mr Akin Olatunji, Okoye said he was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1989 and was initially a member of the Lagos branch of the NBA.
He said that he became a member of Ikeja branch in 1996.
He, however, could not recollect some past chairmen of the body.
“I might not be able to remember past chairmen but I saw Mr Omole, a past Chairman sitting here in court, I also recall that Deacon Dele Adeshina and Monday Ubani are also former chairmen.
“I have never been a member of the executive committee of the branch but I am a financial member of the branch,” he said.
The court adjourned the case until July 9 for continuation of trial.
NAN reports that Ogunlana served as NBA Ikeja Branch Chairman from 2016 to 2018 while Farounbi served as the branch’s Chairman from 2014 to 2016, with Kappo serving as the Treasurer during Farounbi’s tenure.
The trio was charged with conspiracy to steal and stealing.
Ogunlana was charged with 15 counts of stealing and a count of money laundering while Farounbi and Kappo were jointly charged with 13 counts of stealing.
They, however, plead not guilty to the charge.
The former executives were accused by the EFCC of conniving and stealing N20.1 million belonging to the branch.
According to Daji, the prosecutor, Farounbi and Kappo committed the offences from June 15, 2016, to April 9, 2018, in Lagos, while Ogunlana committed the offences from July 18, 2016, to April 10, 2018.
“Farounbi and Kappo, on 13 occasions without authorisation, and in order to facilitate stealing of N20 million belonging to the Ikeja Branch of the NBA, issued cheques to Ogunlana.
“The cheques were paid into Ogunlana’s personal bank account number 2004528818 with First Bank during his tenure as Chairman of NBA Ikeja branch.
“He dishonestly converted the fund to his personal use,” Daji said,” he said.
The alleged offences contravene Sections 278, 285(1), 330 and 409 of the Criminal Law of Lagos 2011.