By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — Erstwhile Director of Finance and Accounts at the Nigerian Air Force, NAF, Air Commodore Salisu Abdullahi, retd, yesterday, disclosed how former Chief of Defence Staff, Air Marshal Alex Badeh (retd), within one year, siphoned over N3.9billion from the accounts of the Force.
Abdullahi, who testified before the Federal High Court sitting in Abuja, disclosed that Badeh, who is facing a 10-count criminal charge preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, monthly diverted N558.2 million, meant for the payment of salaries of NAF officials, for his personal use.
Testifying as the first prosecution witness, PW-1, Abdullahi told the court that Badeh instructed that the money must always be converted to its dollar equivalent and brought to him at his official residence at Niger Barracks, in Abuja.
He said the former Defence chief never signed any document to confirm his monthly receipt of the fund.
“I enlisted in the military as a member of the 29 Regular Course of the Nigerian Defence Academy on January 3, 1981 and I was commissioned into the officers corps of the Nigerian Air Force on January 3, 1984.
“I was the Director of Finance & Accounts of the Nigerian Air Force from 2010 to December 2013, before I was retired from service.
“I was the Adviser to the Chief of Air Staff on financial matters and at the same time, liaised with the Ministry of Finance & Office of the Accountant-General of the Federation. I directed the funds appropriated to the Nigerian Air Force through the annual appropriation.
“I also directed the disbursement of such funds to Air Force formations as authorised by the Chief of Air Staff, supervised and ensured the audit of accounts of NAF by officers of the Accountant-General and the Auditor-General of the Federation.
“I carried out any other job assigned to me by the Chief of Air Staff who is the chief accounting officer of the NAF.
How NAF is funded
“The NAF is funded through the general appropriation under three main vote heads. First is the capital projects. The account was domiciled with the Central Bank of Nigeria in Lagos.
“The second vote head is the overhead, which is meant for general administration of the NAF. The account was domiciled at Zenith Bank also in Lagos.
“The third vote is for personnel emoluments. The account was domiciled in UBA also in Lagos. This account caters for salaries and allowances of all NAF personnel and all temporary staff. It also caters for non-regular allowances of NAF officers.
“We receive a little above N4 billlion monthly for the payment of salaries. However, our total wage bill as at that time was above N2bn monthly. The balance of the money was usually about N1.6bn or N1.7 bn.
“Out of this amount, the sum of N558. 2m is usually earmarked for personal expenditures of the Chief of Air Staff. The balance was returned to the Chief of Air Staff for disbursement to commands & Direct Reporting Units, for priority purpose and training.
“The Chief usually authorised disbursement and expenditure from the fund through the procurement and planning committee.
“All the funds are under complete control of the Chief of Air Staff. Sometimes he may give approval for some things to be done, but in most cases, the amount was exchanged into US dollars by the finance officer in the headquarters NAF camp, Abuja.
“When this money is exchanged, it is brought to me and I take it to the Chief of Air Force at his official residence in Niger Barracks. As military officers, in such situation, we don’t request for any acknowledgment. However, in some cases, I do tell the finance officer to meet me at the Air House in Niger Barracks with the money so that he can see when I hand over the money to the Chief of Air Staff.
“The instruction for the conversion of the money from the Chief of Air Staff was usually verbal. The over N558.2m was retired every month as salaries by B&Accounting group.
“I cannot remember exactly the figure for the salary and allowances of the Chief of Air Staff, but I do know that the salary is above N2m every month. I never got anything from the N558.2m.
“When I came to office, I discovered that the sum of N120m was allocated to my office monthly. According to the brief I was given, it was for my office to liaise with relevant government agencies of the National Assembly.
“But I rejected that money which was withdrawn from the personnel emolument fund. I did not see any reason the money should be placed under me, so I directed that the money be kept for tours and other reasons as may be approved by the Chief of Air Force.”
The witness, however, admitted that Badeh helped him to complete a mansion at Wuse district in Abuja, which he eventually sold, used the proceeds and bought two houses in Kaduna.
He told the court that all the houses had been sealed by the EFCC, adding that he served under two Chiefs of Air Staff.
“The first was Air Chief Marshal M.D.Umar, from October 2010 to October 2012, and Air Chief Badeh from September 2012 to December.
“I am aware that M.D. Umar is also under investigation. I met him at EFCC office where I made additional statements in respect of the case against him,” he added.
How Badeh spent N3.9bn
Narrating how the former CDS allegedly spent the N3.9billion, the witness said: “Sometimes in January 2013, the then Chief of Air Staff, Badeh, requested me to get a house for him in Maitama, where he said he would wish to return after service.
“I have a friend who is into properties, he is a legal practitioner, by name Useni Umar. I contacted him; after some days, he called me back and said that he had some properties he would like us to come and inspect.
“The following day, I called the 1st defendant. He said I should come and pick him in the evening so we can go and inspect the properties.
“We inspected three properties that day and selected the one at Ogun-River Street. He directed that I should find out the prices and tell him. But a day or two later, Useni Umar came and told me that the house was about N1.1bn.
“The following day, I called the Chief of Air Staff, Badeh, and he agreed to pay the amount and asked me to tell Umar to carry out the necessary search to commence the preparation for the purchase.
“Sometimes in that January 2013, when I was taking the normal amount we used to take to him in dollars, he directed that we should pay for the house. He brought the balance in dollars and made up the equivalent of the N1.1bn”.
The witness said in a bid to conceal his ownership of the property, Badeh directed that the name of a company, Iyalikam Nigerian Limited (2nd defendant), be used to prepare the title deeds.
Abdullahi told the court that in the same 2013, Badeh said he should help him acquire a plot where he could build an office. He said the contract was handed to one Engineer Mustapha Yerima, who was then the contractor building the NAF conference centre at Kado, who eventually located a plot that Badeh bought for the sum of N650m.
“One evening when I was taking the normal monthly money to him, he brought the balance from his house and instructed that we should pay.
“I can’t remember the exact dollar amount, but it is equivalent to N650m. After he completed the N650m, he asked that the property should not be purchased in his name. So the documents were prepared in the name of Engr. Mustapha Yerima’s company.”
The witness told the court that Badeh used N900m to develop the property into a plaza, saying he personally took the dollar equivalent of N3m to Engr. Mustapha. The remaining part of the money, according to him, was produced by the finance officer at headquarters of NAF, Group Captain M.L. Sini, on the instruction of the defendant.
“It was when I came to EFCC that I saw from the records that Sini transferred about N880m to Engr. Yerima,” the witness added.
However, he said that Badeh’s son, Alex Jnr. insisted that he must use the upper floor of the plaza to operate a restaurant and hotel.
“Actually, I didn’t even know initially that Alex Jnr. knew anything about the construction until Engr. Yerima continued to complain about his involvement in their job. That was how I got to know and on two occasions, I had reason to take their complaints to the Chief of Air Staff to explain the problem they were facing in the hands of Alex Jnr.
“Alex wanted to use the upper floor as a restaurant and hotel”.
More so, the witness told the court that Badeh ordered him to give one Engr. Kabiru Sallau N260m to purchase a house for his son, adding that whereas N60m was used to renovate the house, N90m was used to furnish it.
Abdullahi said in the same 2013, Badeh told him to look for a befitting property for him to purchase for his second son who was simply identified as “Kam”.
He said he later got a house owned by one Isiaka Rabiu. “Then I told my Chief the price which was about N240m, and he directed that I should pay.
“I paid Isiaka the money in the dollar equivalent from the money I usually take to the Chief every month. However, when Kam saw the house, he didn’t like it. So my Chief requested that we look for another place.
“One evening I was sitting in my house when one Hon. Bature, a member of the House of Reps called and requested that I see him.
“He was then living in a house adjacent to No 19 Kumasi Crescent, Wuse II, Abuja, which we earlier bought for Badeh Jnr”.
He said when Badeh learned that Hon. Bature wanted to sell the property, he expressed intention to acquire it for his second son, but directed that it should be purchased through a proxy.
“What he told me was that Hon. Bature was very close to Gen. Aliyu Gusau and also a member of the defence committee of the House of Reps as at that time. I cannot remember whether General Gusau was the NSA or Minister of Defence then”.
He said that Barr. Umar was eventually used to acquire the house for the sum of N330m, and the title deed handed to Badeh’s lawyer who was identified as Barr. Timothy along with the document for the initial property that Kam rejected.
The witness equally told the court that the same year, Badeh bought a parcel of land in Yola, Adamawa State with N150m he collected from NAF account.
He said one Engr. Joe was engaged to develop the land.
“Actually at the time I was at the EFCC writing my statement, I had completely forgotten about the house in Yola. It was when I met Engr. Joe that he narrated how he negotiated with the Chief to build the house for the cost of N150m”, Abdullahi added.
Meantime, trial Justice Okon Abang has adjourned the matter till March 23 to enable Badeh’s lawyer to cross-examine the witness.
Earlier, the court refused Badeh’s application that sought to stop further hearing on the charge against him.
The defendant had through his lawyer, Mr. Samuel Zibiri, SAN, challenged the jurisdiction of the court to try him on the basis of the charge which he said was grossly defective.
In his application dated March 15, Badeh argued that the charge did not disclose any offence known to money laundering Act, insisting that the charge lacked legal validity.
Relying on section 220 of the Administration of the Criminal Justice Act, 2015, he urged the court to hear and determine the application first before delving into full-blown hearing of the substantive charge against him.
The application was opposed by EFCC lawyer, Mr. Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, who described it as a deliberate ploy by the defendant to stall his trial.
In his ruling, Justice Abang, said there were laid down procedures for the prosecution of criminal cases under the ACJA.
He relied on sections 221 and 396(2) of the ACJA, and held that the application would be considered alongside the substantive issue and ruling delivered along with judgment on the matter.
The judge, however, gave the prosecution seven days to respond to Badeh’s objection to the trial.
Badeh in court from prison
Meantime, Badeh came to court from prison, yesterday, following his inability to perfect the bail conditions that were earlier granted to him.
Badeh was in the charge marked FHC/ABJ/CR/46/2016, alleged to have used the looted funds to purchase choice properties within the highbrow areas in Abuja.
According to the anti-graft agency, Badeh had between January and December, 2013, used dollar equivalent of N650m, to purchase a commercial plot of land situate at plot 1386, Oda Crescent, Cadastral Zone, A07, Wuse II, Abuja.
Badeh was said to have between March 28 and December 5, 2013, paid t N878, 362, 732, 94 (Eight Hundred and Seventy-Eight Million, Three Hundred and Sixty Two Thousand, Seven Hundred and Thirty-Two Naira, Ninety-Four Kobo) which he removed from the account of the Nigerian Air Force, into the account of Rytebuilders Technologies Limited with Zenith Bank Plc, for the construction of a shopping mall on the plot.
He was also alleged to have diverted another dollar equivalent of N304m to the firm, Rytebuilders Technologies Limited, for the completion of the shopping mall.
Whereas EFCC, in count five of the charge, alleged that Badeh used dollar equivalent of the sum of N260m which he removed from the accounts of the Nigerian Air Force and paid to one Oluwatoyin Oke through Platinum Universal Project and Construction to purchase a duplex for his son, Alex Badeh Jnr, it said the defendant further used N60m to renovate the property situated at No 19 Kumasi Crescent, Wuse II, Abuja.
The prosecution alleged in count-seven of the charge that Badeh used N90m to furnish the said duplex he bought for his son.
The commission told the court that Badeh Jnr. was on the run.
Besides, EFCC, in count-eight of the charge, alleged that the defendant used the sum of $2m, equivalent of the sum of N330m, which he removed from the coffers of the Nigerian Air Force, and paid one honourable Bature to purchase another duplex for him at No. 14 Adzope Crescent, Off Kumasi Crescent, Wuse II, Abuja.