Jonathan approved N359m for town hall meetings, I got N200m — Ex-President’s aide

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Former President Goodluck Jonathan’s aide, Umar Tahir, who was Senior Special Assistant on Islamic Affairs, on Tuesday told the Federal High Court in Abuja that an ex-Minister, Taminu Turaki, released N200 million out of the N359 million for a security sensitisation programme in parts of the country in 2014.

The aide made the allegation before Justice Inyang Ekwo, while testifying as the first prosecution witness in the ex-Minister’s trial on money laundering charges involving about N854 million.

The News Agency of Nigeria recalls that Turaki presided over the Ministry of Special Duties and Inter-governmental Affairs between 2013 and 2015.

He also served as the supervising Minister of Labour from 2014 to 2015 in President Jonathan-led administration.

NAN reports that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission had on May 4 arraigned the former minister alongside his former Special Assistant, Sampson Okpetu, and two firms: Samtee Essentials Limited and Pasco Investment Limited, on 16 counts of money laundering.

The EFCC alleged that the defendants used the companies to launder funds totaling about N854 million stolen from the two Ministries where the Minister held sway under the then administration.

However, Turaki and Okpetu pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Testifying on Tuesday, Tahir disclosed that due to the shortage in the funds released, the programme that was planned to be organised in each of the 19 northern states and the six geopolitical zones of the country, could only be executed in the North West, South South, Abuja and Kaduna and Kano States.

He told the court how he was invited by the the former president on June 23, 2014 to discuss the security challenges posed by Boko Haram and hate speeches, amongst others in the country.

The witness, who was led in evidence by EFCC’s counsel, Mohammed Abubakar, said part of the advice he offered Jonathan was to let his office organise “a sensitisation town hall meetings across the 19 states and the six geo-political zones which the Vice-President and top members of the government would attend”.

He said he raised a memo on June 30, 2014 in which he enumerated how he planned the programme and indicated the need for funds to be released to organise it.

Tahir added: “But as a Senior Special Assistant to the President, I did not have ministerial accounts.

“So, I was asked to liaise with the Minister of Special Duties so that the money would be sent to him and he would then send it to me.

“The president in his minute on my memo gave his approval through the Vice-President and my office.

“Therefore, on July 7, 2014, the approval was conveyed to my office and that of the Vice-President.”
Tahir said he subsequently held meetings with Turaki after which he sent a budget of N359 million for the programme to the minister on September 2, 2014.

“In January 2015, the President granted the approval that the Minister of Finance should release N359 million for the programme.”
The witness, however, alleged that out of the N359 million approved by the president, only N200 million was released to him.

According to him: “Of the N200 million, the sum of N150 million was paid to me in three tranches of N50 million each in January 2015.”

He said he was paid via an account he submitted to the minister.

He said he collected the balance of N50 million in cash from the ex-minister’s aide.

He said it was when he was invited by the EFCC to shed light on the transactions that he was told that the total sum of N359 million was released to the minister.

Tahir said: “I gave EFCC copies of the cheques I issued for the disbursement of the money released to me.

“I said it was only N200 million that was released to me.

“They said the complete N359 million was released to the minister but he only gave me N200 million.”

Justice Ekwo then adjourned until September 21 for the cross-examination of the witness.

Earlier in the proceedings, Justice Ekwo ordered the EFCC to produce its investigation reports in respect of the case and the statements of four of its proposed witnesses and have them served on the second defendant.

The judge gave the order following an application by the second defendant’s lawyer, A.K. Ajibade (SAN).

Abubakar did not opposed application.

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