By Obute James
Abu Zarma, Resident Electoral Commissioner in Yobe State, on Thursday last week did not show up at the state Governorship Election Petition Tribunal sitting in Abuja, where he was scheduled to testify, on the alleged N15m bribery.
The petitioners, the Peoples Democratic Party and its candidate in the April 11, 2015 Yobe State governorship election, Adamu Waziri, are by their petition challenging the declaration of the candidate of the All Progressives Congress, Ibrahim Gaidam, as the winner of the poll.
The respondents to the petition are Governor Gaidam, his party, the APC, the Independent National Electoral Commission, Zarma and the governor’s Aide-de-Camp, Zakari Deba.
The petitioners had urged the Justice Mojisola Dada-led tribunal to nullify the election and order a fresh one to be conducted due to alleged irregularities and corrupt practices that marred the previous one.
They alleged that Governor Gaidam, through Deba, who is an Assistant Superintendent of Police, had induced the the REC by paying a total sum of N15m into two of his (REC) bank accounts some days to the April 11 poll.
The REC (Zarma) who is one of the respondents to the petition was scheduled to open his case on Thursday, but he refused to show up at the tribunal and no witness testified for him.
At the Thursday’s proceedings, the joint counsel for both Zarna and INEC, Abeny Mohammed (SAN), announced to the tribunal that his clients had elected to close their case without calling any witness.
He said the decision to close their case followed a review of the petitioners’ case after the proceedings were adjourned in deference to the death of one of the members of the tribunal, Justice Audu Bako.
He said, “The short adjournment afforded me the opportunity to review and evaluate evidence adduced by the petitioners.
“Our conclusion is that we are not calling any witness, but to rest our case on the case of the petitioner. I therefore close the case of the 3rd and 4th respondents (Zarma and INEC) in this petition.”
Justice Dada then closed their case and called on the last respondent – Governor Gaidam’s ADC, Deba – to open his own case on Friday.
Deba’s lawyer, Titus Ashaolu (SAN), assured the tribunal that his client’s witnesses would attend the Friday’s proceedings.
In their effort to prove the allegation, the petitioners called officials of the banks and an investigator with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission as their witnesses. The three witnesses confirmed the payment.
While testifying on August 12, an Investigating Officer attached to the Economic Governance Team 7 of the EFCC, Christopher Adekunle Odofin said N15m was actually lodged into Zarma’s two accounts with Zenith and Diamond banks, but that the lodgements were reversed some days later, when Zarma protested.
Odofin, who said he was part of the team investigating the case, said, although the investigation had not been concluded, his team had made substantial discoveries and had also made some recommendations.
He said his team discovered that on April 8, three days to the April 11, 2015 governorship election, Assistant Superintendent of Police, Zakari Deba (the aide de camp to Governor Gaidam) caused a Diamond Bank’s Assistant Branch Manager (Damaturu), Bamaji Mohammed Kukawa to pay N7m and N8m into Zarma’s accounts with Diamond and Zenith Banks.
Odofin added that on April 9, 2015, Zarma complained to both banks, in writing, that wrong deposits were made into his accounts, to which the banks’ management’s asked him to issue cheques in the amounts deposited, to enable them reverse the transactions.
He said their investigation also revealed that Zarma equally wrote, on April 29 to the Chairman of INEC, complaining about the strange cash deposits in his accounts.
Odofin said investigation further revealed that based on the cheques issued by Zarma, the banks reversed the deposits and returned the money to an account maintained with GTB by a company known as Saleh & Hanif.
He said checks at the Corporate Affairs Commission linked the company to Deba, who was also discovered to be the sole signatory to the company’s accounts.
He added that their report indicted Deba, who as a serving police officer floated a private company, which was an illegal act.
“We recommended that Deba and Kukawa be prosecuted for attempting to bribe Zarma,” Odofin said.
The tribunal had adjourned for some days in view of the sudden death of a member of its panel, Justice Bako.
Before the commencement of proceedings, lawyers in the case took turn to commiserate with the rest of the tribunal members over Justice Bako’s sudden death.