Trial of former Governor of Benue State, Gabriel Suswam and two of his co-defendants over alleged diversion of N9.7bn SURE-P fund commenced on Tuesday with the first prosecution witness, Eugene Tersoo Orvihi-Ivase, telling the court that N450m was owed the Benue State Government House Administration as at the time he was deployed to the office of the State Head of Service (HoS) in June 2015.
The witness, who was the Principal Secretary, Benue State Government House Administration when Suswam held sway as the Governor told Justice John Tsoho of the Federal High court in Abuja while being led in evidence by the prosecution counsel, Kayode Alilu, that the government house accountant, Janet Aluga signed the payment voucher on his behalf even while he was in office.
Orvihi-Ivase, who had worked with the former Governor between April 2013 and June 2015 said he, as the Principal Secretary, Government House Administration, wrote to the former Governor, requesting for the payment of N450m, being owed the state Government House Administration for ten months.
“I seek the state government’s approval, which is conveyed to the former Finance Commissioner of the state, Omadachi Oklobia, who approved the processing and payment of the said amount “, he said.
He also said that when he was deployed to the State’s Head of Service, he included in his handing over note to the incoming Permanent Secretary, Government House, Dzege Iaangba, that the Government House Administration was yet to collect the money.
“The handing over was on June 25, 2015, several weeks later, I learnt from the Permanent Secretary that, Government House Administration that the said amount had been paid.
“I inquired from the Government House Accountant, who told me that she withdrew the said amount of N450m from the bank and took it to former governor Suswam “, he told the court.
While under cross examination by counsel to Suswam and Oklobia, Joseph Daudu (SAN), the witness confirmed that he worked with the Benue State Government House between 2013 and 2015 and added that as the Principal Secretary, Government House Administration, which is equivalent to Permanent Secretary of the Government House, he was the chief accounting officer of the Benue State government House.
He said the Police did not show him the original copy of his handing over note to his successor while he was being interrogated even as he disclosed that the monthly allocation to the Benue State government house stood at N48,5 million when he wrote for the payment of the overhead cost been owed the Government House Administrationn
Counsel to the third defendant, Innocent Daagba declined to cross examine the witness because of the absence of the document he needed to obtain to confront the witness with.
He said the evidence of the witness was not part of the document front loader by the prosecution in March 2017.
The court adjourned till October 17 2017 for further trial and the cross examination of the prosecution witness by counsel to the third defendant.
Suswam and his co-defendants are facing a 32-count charge for allegedly diverting the sum of N9.7bn meant for Police reform and Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P).