….Tenders bag of cash containing N4m in evidence
….As S-Court Registrar testifies
By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA — Trial of Justice Sylvester Ngwuta of the Supreme Court, who is facing corruption charges, resumed, yesterday, with the Federal Government revealing that whereas the total salary of the defendant for five years was N45 million, he, however, spent N313 million in nine months.
The Federal Government made the disclosure on a day it brought the Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court, Mr. Saleh Gambo, to testify against Ngwuta before the Federal High Court in Abuja.
Gambo, who is the second prosecution witness, PW-2, gave his evidence-in-chief before trial Justice John Tsoho, shortly after the embattled jurist entered fresh plea to an amended 11-count money laundering charge.
Testifying on oath before the court, Gambo said the defendant was elevated to the apex court bench in 2011.
He told the court that the defendant receives N751,000 as his monthly salary as well as another N710,000 as his allowance.
The witness said: “My lord, I know the remuneration of all Justices of the Supreme Court. Justices receive their salaries, allowances, air tickets when they are travelling and estacodes when they are going out of the country. They also get welfare packages during festivities.
“I know the defendant since 2011 when he was appointed a Justice of the Supreme Court.
“From 2011 to September 2016, during this period, his lordship got N751,000 as his monthly salary. He also received N710,000 as allowances.
“Anytime his lordship travelled abroad, he got $1,300, per night, depending on how many days he was scheduled to stay. The number of days he spent were determined by nature of the seminar or workshop.
“He also collected £10,000 every year for medical check-up. The days for the check-up are fixed and each justice is given 18 days estacode. The medical allowance is for the justices alone. It does not include members of their families. But we also have provisions for their family members.
“The lordship (Ngwuta) has always gone for medical check-up and always received £10,000 each year since his appointment.
“If you multiply £10,000 by five it will give you £50,000, that is the total of what he got within the period.
“He was also paid a little above N8 million for air tickets within that period of time. The total estacode he got within that period stood at $196,000. The total salaries and allowances his lordship collected over the period was about N103 million.”
Asked to name some of the businesses justices of the apex court are permitted to engage in, the witness said: “My lord, judicial officers are not allowed to own or operate any business.”
The prosecution counsel, Mrs Olufemi Fatunde further asked the witness: “Mr. Gambo, will you be surprised to hear that a justice of the Supreme Court engaged in buying and selling of things like yam, oil or rice?”
The witness replied: “My lord, such business will be in contravention of the code of conduct for judicial officers.”
While being cross-examined by Ngwuta’s lawyer, Chief Kanu Agabi, SAN, the witness said he never got any report that the defendant engaged in private business.
He said: “I did not also receive any report against the quality of his performance as a judicial officer.”
Asked if he was aware that some justices own landed property, the witness said: “I only know that some own monetized houses. I don’t know of any rule or law that forbids Supreme Court Justices from owning property.
“Since I have known the defendant, he has never come under suspicion for engaging in any fraudulent act. The salaries and allowances I mentioned earlier are the only ones I could remember.”
Bags of cash
Earlier in the proceeding, the Federal Government tendered into evidence, three bags containing some cash allegedly recovered from Justice Ngwuta’s home in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State, last year.
The bags were tendered through the star witness, Mr. Linus Nwamba, who earlier narrated how the defendant spent N313 million on landed property.
Nwamba, who is a building contractor, said Ngwuta gave him the money in cash, between January 4 and September 2016.
Meanwhile, before trial Justice Tsoho admitted the bags into evidence, the prosecution applied for their contents to be revealed in the open court, a request that was granted.
Before he adjourned the case till tomorrow, Justice Tsoho directed that the cash exhibit be released to the prosecution for safe keeping.