By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA – Trial of the erstwhile Chief of Air Staff, Air Marshal Mohammed Umar resumed before the Federal High Court in Abuja on Thursday, with former Director of Finance and Accounts at the Nigerian Air Force, NAF, Air Commodore Salisu Abdullahi Yushau, retd, insisting there was no documentation for the N13.3billion the defendant allegedly diverted from salary account of the Force between 2010 and 2012.
Yushau told the court that though he was head of the Finance unit, he said the defendant, as the Chief Accounting Officer of NAF, monthly pocketed N558.2million from the salary allocation, without signing any document or receipt.
“As the Director of Finance and Accounts, I was responsible to the defendant as the Chief of Air Staff”, the witness added.
The ex-NAF Director is the star witness, PW-1, of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, which is prosecuting Umar on a seven-count money laundering charge.
The witness who was NAF head Accountant till December 31, 2013, had in his Evidence-In-Chief on Monday, exposed before the court that though the Force regularly received N4billion every month as its total salary allocation, he said only about N2.4billion was eventually spent to pay the entire Air Force personnel.
He said the defendant directed that N558.2million out of the balance of N1.6billion from the salary allocation should always be converted to US dollars and brought to his official residence at Niger Barracks for his “monthly upkeep”.
As the one facilitating the deduction of funds and its subsequent conversion to dollars, the witness told the court Umar okayed a monthly transfer of N200million to his department.
“My lord, I told the Chief of Air Staff that my office didn’t require that amount of money. So, that N120million was put under the Chief of Air Staff’s office which he was using for visit to NAF formations and other welfare issues”.
Under cross-examination by the defence counsel, Mr. Hassan Liman, SAN, the PW-1, said he never issued any receipt to the defendant in respect of all the funds he took from the NAF account for his monthly upkeep.
He earlier told the court that he had on several occasions, requested the Finance Officer at NAF headquarters in Abuja, one Group Captain Bukar Abubakar, to accompany him to handover the dollars to the defendant at his home.
Asked if he was aware of the Financial Regulation of 2007 and revised 2009, which regulates the financial dealings of MDAS and other govt establishments, including Nigerian Armed Forces.
The Witness said: “The military is a unique institution. It has its own norms, despite the financial regulations.
“The financial regulation is binding on the armed forces so far it does not affect the operational activities of the armed forces”.
The PW-1 said he was aware that there was a Manual of Financial Administration for the Nigerian Air Force, which he said gave his office the responsibility of supervising all financial matters of NAF.
“My lord according to the Manual, receipts are supposed to be issued for all payments. But my lord in financial matters, payment means that there is a source document where a request for payment for an expenditure was made through the chief accounting officer and authority is given for the expenditure.
“So whoever is collecting that payment, it must be receipted. But where the Chief Accounting Officer is saying give me this and there is no document, that cannot be said to be payment”.
The witness said he knew Air Chief Marshall O.O Petinrin, retd, as the Chief of Air Staff before he was elevated to be the Chief of Defence Staff.
He said it was former Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshall. O.O. Petinrin, retd, that in 2012, signed the Manual for Financial Administration for the Armed Forces of Nigeria.
Meanwhile, despite opposition by EFCC lawyer, Mr. Sylvanus Tahir, trial Justice Nnamdi Dimgba admitted the Manual into evidence and marked it as exhibit AMD1.
Under further cross-examination, Yushau, told the court that there were three signatories to NAF account, adding that he was not one of such signatories.
He equally denied playing any part in the preparation and presentation of NAF budget to the National Assembly.
“I give my input into the budget like other Directors. The budget office is under the Chief of Policy and Plans and there was a Director of budget under him. “Mine was to give input in the form of extent of implementation of the budget for the year.
“What I mean by budget implementation is about the money received within the budget year and the programmes that were executed by the NAF.
“There were three main signatories to NAF’s account. Those were, the Commander Pay and Accounting Group, Ikeja Lagos.
“The Chief Accountant, usually a Senior Civilian Account staff, is usually posted from the Accountant-General’s office and the Air Force’s cashier. I was not one of the three signatories”.
He however admitted being a signatory to an account that was opened for the construction of NAF Conference Centre.
“The Commander Pay and Accounting Group is responsible to the Chief of Air Staff. I was the supervising director for Pay and Accounting Group.
“All units of the Nigerian Air Force keep cash books. We don’t open cash books at the headquarters of NAF. We however keep an account book.
“The Account book shows the receipt and disbursement of funds. Before the commencement of this trial, I was invited by the EFCC where I made duly signed statements”.
At that point of the hearing, counsel to the defendant, Liman, SAN, asked the court to compel the prosecution to furnish him with a Certified True Copy, CTC, of Yushau’s statement at the EFCC, as well as that of Group Captain Bukar who allegedly witnessed when some of the deducted funds were handed over to the ex-NAF Chief in dollars.
Liman’s request was however opposed by EFCC lawyer who contended that photocopies of all the statements sought by the defendant were already before the court.
“All the statements made by the PW1 and Group Captain Bukar Abubakar are all in the proof of evidence”, Sylvanus insisted.
Nevertheless, Umar’s lawyer eventually persuaded the court to grant a short adjournment to enable him procure certified copied of the statements. Upon consent of counsel, Justice Dimgba adjourned the matter till March 28 and 29.
Umar was head of NAF from September 9, 2010 to October 4, 2012.
EFCC alleged that he used looted funds and purchased six choice properties in Abuja, Kano and Kaduna State.
The witness earlier narrated before the court, how he helped the defendant to acquire four choice properties in Abuja with over N2.3billion.
He said the defendant used N700million that was withdrawn from NAF account to purchase a property at No 14 Vistula Close, Off Panama Street, Maitama Abuja.
Purchased another mansion at No 1853 Deng Xiao Ping Street, Off Mahathir Mohammed Street, Asokoro Extension Abuja with N860m and renovated it with N66million that was transferred from NAF operations account domiciled at UBA Plc, into Stanbic IBTC account No. 9202077424 belonging to Capital Law office.
As well as used another N500million removed from NAF account to purchase a four Bedroom Duplex with Boys Quarters at Road 3B Street 2, Mabushi Ministers Hill, Abuja.
Yushau also revealed that Umar used the US Dollar equivalent of N250million to purchase a property situated at No 14, Audu Bako Way, G.R.A. Kano State, in 2011, and equally paid N80m for a property at No 9 Cabala Road in Kaduna.