In the ongoing trial of Godwin Emefiele, the former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), the first prosecution witness, Ogau Onyeka Michael, testified on Monday, February 12, 2024, before Justice Hamza Muazu at the Federal Capital Territory High Court in Maitama, Abuja.
Michael shed light on how the ex-CBN boss sanctioned a cash payment of $6,230,000 for international election observers during the 2023 general election.
Michael, a former branch controller at the CBN’s Abuja branch, provided details during his testimony. The trial involves Emefiele facing 20-count amended charges, including allegations of corrupt advantages, conspiracy, criminal breach of trust, forgery, and obtaining by false pretenses amounting to $6,230,000.
The witness, led by the prosecution counsel Rotimi Oyedepo, SAN, confirmed that he had worked on the documents presented to him by the prosecution. He explained that on January 8, 2023, his office received a request for the payment of $6,230,000, accompanied by documents authorizing the cash disbursement for international election observers, which were approved by the then-CBN governor.
“In my office, all requests for payments are usually channeled to the branch controller, and that is my office. On that day, a request for $6,230,000 came to my office, and my attention was drawn to it by my office assistant. It originated from the Banking Services Department and was accompanied by a memo carrying the signature of the Director, Banking Services. The memo instructed the branch controller to pay the sum of $6,230,000 to a staff member of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, who was identified by name and identity card,” Michael explained.
He further outlined that the document stated the payment was intended for election observance and should be made in cash, with the equivalent amount in naira. It also specified that the money should be reimbursed by the Federal Ministry of Finance in the second quarter of 2023. The witness noted that the document included an approval from the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, as well as endorsements from the then-Secretary to the Government of the Federation and the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
After reviewing the document and ensuring it met the necessary requirements, Michael forwarded it to the head of the Banking Services Unit for processing and subsequent payment. The payment, made on April 8, 2023, was carried out in cash by Mr. Williams, the Head of Banking Services, according to Michael. He confirmed the authenticity of the document through his signature.
During the trial, the prosecution sought to tender all six documents as exhibits, but defense counsel Mathew Bukka, SAN, objected. Bukka argued that since the case was scheduled for February 12 and 13, the matter should be adjourned until February 13 to provide sufficient time for the prosecution to secure the original documents from the CBN. Oyedepo requested a 30-minute stand-down to retrieve the original copies.
After considering their arguments, Justice Muazu adjourned the trial until February 13, 2024, for its continuation.