Read previous post on case here.
Trial in the ongoing criminal charge against Mr. Dele Belgore SAN and former minister of National Planning, Prof. Abubakar Suleiman continued today before Justice Aikawa of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos. Mr. Obinna Onyia appeared in the proceedings and informed the court that he had filed an application on behalf of the former minister of petroleum resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke who wants to join as a defendant to the charge. He stated that Mrs. Alison-Madueke had been named in counts one to four of the charge but had not been made a defendant to the charge and it was necessary for her to be made a defendant to enable her properly defend the allegations made against her therein. Mr. Dele Belgore SAN and Prof Abubakar Suleiman had on the 8th of February 2017 been arraigned on a 5-count charge of money laundering. They are alleged to have collected N450 Million out of the 115 Million USD allegedly doled out by Mrs. Alison-Madueke to compromise the 2015 general elections.
Counsel to the two named defendants, Mr. Sofunde SAN and Ayanlaja SAN submitted that in view of the nature of the application, it would be better for continuation of the trial to be adjourned pending the determination of Mrs. Alison-Maduekes’s motion. Counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), Mr. Oyedepo however disagreed and stated that the Commission had absolute discretion as to how to file charges before the court and could exercise that discretion in either charging Mrs. Alison-Madueke with the current defendants or separately. He stated that he had not been served with the application and that the application should not stall trial in the charge.
The court held that since the application had not been served on the prosecution, it couldn’t be heard yet but that trial could continue in the suit. Mr. Oyedepo therefore called the prosecution’s second witness who had begun his testimony on the 8th of June 2017. The prosecution’s second witness is Usman Zakari, an investigator with the Commission. After being reminded of the oath he took at the beginning of his testimony, he testified that the 1st Defendant, Mr. Belgore SAN maintains accounts with Standard Chartered Bank and Guaranty Trust Bank. The Commission wrote letters of investigation activities to these two banks requesting for his account opening packages and statements of accounts. The responses from the banks along with the documents requested were admitted as evidence without any objection.
Mr. Zakari further testified that during the investigations, he recovered email correspondence between a Ugonna Maduekwe and the Managing Director of Fidelity Bank. Mr. Oyedepo sought to tender the email in evidence. Mr. Sofunde SAN objected to the admissibility of the email for non-compliance with the provisions of Section 84 of the Evidence Act. He argued that before any computer-generated evidence could be admissible, the conditions as stipulated in Section 84(2) must be fulfilled. He submitted that one of the conditions to be fulfilled is that there must be evidence verifying the computer that was used to produce the document. The evidence could be by way of either oral testimony or by means of the certificate tendered. He submitted further that this verification must be done either by an expert or a witness familiar with the use of the computer in question. He referred to the case of R v. Shepherd (1993) 1 All ER pg 225 at 231 Paras A-C which was cited with approval by the Supreme Court in Dickson v. Sylva & Ors (2017) 8 NWLR (Part 1567) 167 at 203 Paras B-F. He argued that there was nothing on the certificate tendered along with the email to show that the certifier is an expert or is familiar with the use of the computer in question.
Mr. Sofunde SAN further submitted that the certificate tendered did not comply with Section 84 (2) (b) which requires evidence to be given of regular supply to the computer of the activities or the document in question over a period of time. He also stated that the information required in Section 84 (2) (d) is also missing as well as particulars of the computer used as required in Section 84 (4) (b). He finally submitted that though absolute compliance is not required, there must be substantial compliance. Relying on the case of Unity Life Fire Insurance Co. Ltd v. International Bank of West Africa (IBWA) (2011) 7 NWLR (Part 713) 610 at 625 Paras A – E, he submitted that it is not by using the exact wording of the language of the Act that one achieves substantial compliance but by covering every requirement specified by the law. Relying on the cases of P.D. Hallmark Contractors Nigeria Ltd v. Gomwalk (2015) LPELR – 24462 (CA) at pg 28 and Omisore v. Aregbesola (2015) 15 NWLR (Part 1482) 205 at 295 Paras A – E, he argued that substantial compliance with Section 84 of the Evidence Act is a requirement for admissibility. He urged the court to reject the email.
Mr. Ayanlaja SAN aligned himself with the submissions of Mr. Sofunde SAN and added that even Section 84 (1) of the Evidence Act made the document inadmissible. He submitted that documents under the section could only be admissible where direct oral evidence of the facts contained therein would be admissible. He argued that the prosecution’s second witness was not in a position to give oral evidence of the contents of the email sought to be tendered. He therefore urged the court to find that the email is inadmissible.
Mr. Oyedepo sought for time to react to the objections raised and urged the court to adjourn the charge to tomorrow. The charge continues tomorrow.