A former banker, Chukwuemeka Ekwunife, who was billed to continue his evidence on how a businesswoman and oil marketer, one Mrs. Ngozi Ekeoma used him to steal millions of Naira from the Federal government of Nigeria using subsidy scheme, was on Friday abducted.
Ekwunife was allegedly abducted by plain clothed gunmen a few metres away from an Ikeja Special Offences Court, Lagos where he was billed to give evidence in a criminal matter against him.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, had arraigned Ekwunife and Structured Energy Limited for stealing a total sum of N168.5m from several companies on an 8 count charge.
The anti-graft agency had alleged that the defendant stole the money in tranches of N19m, N9m, N85m, N25m, and N6.5m sometimes in August, October and November 2014 from the complaint, Nepal Oil and Gas limited.
But at Friday hearing, the defendant was whisked away by gunmen while attempting to photocopy documents he had intended to tender before the court as evidence against Mrs. Ekeoma, The Managing Director of Nepal Oil and Gas.
However, when the case was called yesterday, the Defence Counsel, Mr. Eubena Amedie told the court that the defendant has been abducted by gunmen, who later identified themselves as police officers at the Intelligence Response Team.
Amedie, who appeared worried, told Justice Sherifat Solebo that his client was earlier present in court to continue his trial and tender some vital documents for his defence.
The Defence lawyer said, “My lord, some of the documents from Liberia which we had promised to tender before the court today arrived on Wednesday and the rest came in late on Thursday evening.
“We came with some original certificates too but on our way to this court, the defendant was abducted by gunmen, on plain clothes, who later identified themselves as policemen from Intelligence Response Team.
“I came to the court with the defendant today so we could tender these documents but he was abducted at GRA Ikeja, Opposite Diamond Bank, where we had gone to make photocopies.
“I then pleaded with them to bring him to court to complete his evidence and after the proceedings, they could take him back but the refused. So as it stands now, the defendant is absent and today’s proceedings have been frustrated as a result of this action”.
Justice Solebo thereafter ordered that the EFCC lawyers should go with the Defence Counsel to the station where the defendant is being held and confirm the report.
“Go and verify if the defendant is there and find out why he was taken away. I want us to verify the facts so I can put it on record. This matter is hereby stood down,” the judge ordered.
The matter was stood down for more than thirty minutes to enable the EFCC lawyers to verify the facts.
When hearing on the matter resumed, the EFCC lawyers confirmed that the facts were true but the Defence Counsel told the court that the police officers refused to show the alleged petition that led to his arrest.
Amedie said, “At least the prosecuting Counsel has confirmed my client’s abduction. The policemen even refused to show the petition that warranted his arrest. And the only person who could have written a petition against him is Nepal Oil and Gas.”
The judge, however, blamed the EFCC for allowing Nepal Oil and Gas to petition a defendant who is standing trial and already giving evidence in defence before the court.
Justice Solebo also humorously advised the Defence Counsel to be careful before he also gets abducted since he is still holding the original copies of the documents to be tendered.
Meanwhile, earlier in his defence, Ekwunife had informed the court of his intentions to bring supporting documents to prove how Mrs. Ngozi Ekeoma, owner of Nepal Oil and Gas Limited, used him to facilitate false documentations in Liberia in order to obtain money from the FG through subsidy scheme.
Ekwunife, while led in evidence by his lawyer, said that he helped Mrs. Ekeoma register several companies in Liberia to enable her to carry out various importation of petroleum products particularly Premium Motor Spirit (PMS), under the petroleum scheme fund (subsidy scheme) with the FG.
The former banker, who was formerly a Credit Relationship Manager of Sterling Bank, said he resigned from the bank in 2014 after Mrs. Ekeoma pleaded with him to join her business and help her provide credit facilities for her companies.
He said: “I met the Managing Director of Nepal Oil and Gas limited, Ngozi Ekeoma in 2010 while I was working with Sterling Bank as a Credit Relationship Manager. Mrs. Ekeoma was a customer of the bank and so she came to me to help her provide credit facilities to various companies that she introduced to the bank.
“She introduced companies as Nepal Oil and Gas Limited, Dell Energy Limited, Carnival Energy Oil and Gas Limited.
“So I provided credit facilities for these companies that enabled her to carry out various importations of PMS through subsidy scheme with the FG.
“This relationship lasted for four years. And in 2014, I voluntarily resigned from Sterling Bank after she pleaded earnestly with me to join her business.“So I left my job in the bank to work for her in a contractor/staff arrangement.
“I helped her set up various companies like Structured Energy Resources Limited, Dexter Oil Limited, Ritrak Supply and Trading Limited, Gulf Trading and Shipping Limited – all registered in Liberia.“These companies were used at various times to carry out trading and documentations related to subsidy by the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
“We produced supporting documents like Bill of Laden, the recertification of products, the certificate of quality and certificate of Origin.
“These documentations were done outside the shores of Nigeria and used for trades that never happened in Nigeria. The documentation were done in Liberia for trades that were not live (feasible).“For instance, Mrs. Ekeoma, in her stock of trade, would arrange documentations to convert dual purpose kerosene to aviation fuel.
“What I mean is that where dual purpose kerosene was supposed to be sold to households, Mrs. Ekeoma would instruct us (Myself, Ugochukwu Onwuegbunam, Alexander Uwaezuoke to facilitate and get documentations that the products are jet fuel.
“We would facilitate the documentation and sell the product as Jet fuel to aviation airlines.
“We used these documentations to carry out fraudulent activities by using documents formulated outside the country to perform trade in Nigeria that were not suppose to happen,” he said.
The judge, however, adjourned the matter till 21 and 22 October for a continuation of trial.