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April 12, 2021

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Court to rule on admissibility of EFCC’s exhibits

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The High Court of the Federal Capital Territory on Wednesday fixed June 9 to rule in admissibility of evidence in the suit filed against a former Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Babachir Lawal, and five others.

The former SGF is facing trial alongside his younger brother, Hamidu, a director of Rholavision Engineering Limited for alleged fraud involving N544 million grass-cutting contract.

Others charged are an employee of the company, Suleiman Abubakar; Managing Director of Josmon Technologies Limited, Apeh Monday, Rholavision Engineering Ltd and Josmon Technologies Ltd.

The judge, Charles Agbaza, adjourned the matter for ruling on the objection by the defendants’ counsel to the admissibility of documents tendered by the prosecution witness, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

Prosecution witness’ testimony

The prosecution’s third witness, Fatima Umar, who is a deputy head of Digital Forensic Laboratory with the EFCC,was led in evidence by the prosecution counsel, Offen Uket.

The witness said part of her job function was to identify, observe, collect and analyse data based on proven technical methodology.

Ms Umar further said that she also served as expert witness who gave data generated through automated processes to investigators to aid and serve as first responder to locate potential storage in crime scene.

In addition, she said she had been a Digital Forensic expert for seven years, adding that she was qualified and certified to be able to give evidence and write reports.

She said she received a request letter to carry out a digital examination on an IPhone 7.

The prosecutor, Mr Uket, thereafter proceeded to ask some questions bordering on who sent the request letter, who the phone belonged to, the condition of the phone when she received it, how she went about retrieving and extracting data from the said phone.

Ms Umar explained that the processes of retrieving the information involved manual, digital and physical extractions.

She also said the investigator, Ibrahim Salihu, gave her key words to search for like SGF, Abia, Abdullahi and some other words.

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“In the process of my search, I came across a contact saved as SGF,” she said.

The witness said the nature of data extracted from the phone were messages exchanged between the owner of the phone, Musa Bulani, and a contact saved as SGF.

She equally said the data extracted from the phone was analysed, burnt into a compact disk ( CD), printed into a hard copy using an HP printer, and a report was written.

Mr Uket then led her to mention the documents she wanted to tender in evidence as; the request letter, burnt CD, print-out ( hard copy) and the EFCC’s forensic report.

Objection

The first defendant’s counsel, Akin Olujinmi, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, urged the court to reject the items except the request letter dated March 8, 2018.

He said the witness extracted the information from the phone which meant the extracted print-out was not the original source, rather the phone which was not before the court.

He added that the extraction was a public document as it was extracted by the witness in the cause of performing her official duty as a forensic analyst.

He therefore said that as a secondary evidence which was permissible to be tendered in evidence, it ought to have been signed as a certified True Copy ( CTC).

The counsel further argued that the extraction which was a computer-generated document by virtue of section 84 of the Evidence Act (2011); thus it should have fulfilled the four conditions stipulated by the section.

He said one of the conditions was that the document ought to have been accompanied by a certificate.

“We recall that when this witness testified, she never claimed to have had any connection with that phone beyond when it was sent to her to analyse,” the defence lawyer said.

He concluded by urging the court to reject the documents tendered by prosecution as evidence.

John Itodo, counsel for the second defendant, Napoleon Idenala, counsel for the third defendant, Ocholi Okutepa, counsel for the fourth and sixth defendant, M. E Oru, counsel for the fifth defendant, all aligned themselves with Mr Olujimi’s submission.

The judge, thereafter, adjourned the matter till June 9, to rule the admissibility of the documents.

Charges

The News Agency of Nigeria ( NAN) reports that the defendants were first arraigned before Jude Okeke of the FCT High Court, Maitama, Abuja, on February 13, 2019, however the case had to be transferred to Mr Agbaza following Mr Okeke’s death.

This development led to the re-arraignment of the defendants on November 30, 2020, on 10 amended count charges bordering on fraud, criminal conspiracy diversion of over N544 million belonging to the Federal Government.

The EFCC alleged that the defendants committed the offence when Mr Lawal was the SGF.

The anti-graft agency alleged that he allegedly awarded contracts to these companies in which he had interests.

(NAN)

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