Stephen James spent N185m to acquire land for stroke centre in Abuja, witness tells court | News Proof



Stephen James spent N185m to acquire land for stroke centre in Abuja, witness tells court

By Our Reporter

Mr.  Babatunde Yakubu,  second prosecution witness in the on-going trial of a United Kingdom-based Profe ssor of Neurology, Reuben Obaro, and his wife, Mrs. Ayodele Obaro, a practising nurse, also in the UK, yesterday gave a vivid account of how money were moved from a commercial bank into Stephen James Healthcare Limited.

The witness, while testifying before Justice A. O. Ebong of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory sitting in Zuba, however told the court that he does not know what the money was used for.

But another witness, Adenike Akinola, 66, businesswoman, told the court that the organization bought a parcel of land at Gudu District of Abuja, at about the time the transactions were made.
Earlier in the trial,  the court had been told that the land in Gudu is supposed to serve as the place where the permanent structure of the Stephen James Stroke Centre will be built which will be managed by Stephen James Healthcare Limited.
The Stephen James Stroke Centre partnered the defunt SURE-P programme of the federal government in the management of the rising incidence of stroke among Nigerians in order to reduce the numbers of Nigerians travelling abroad to seek medical help.

Led in evidence by the prosecution counsel,  Osuoseni Akpos, Akinola said the land was sold for a total sum of N185,000,000.

She told the court that the money for the purchase of the land was paid in several instalments through cash,  cheques and inter-bank transactions.

When asked whether she knew the purpose for which the land is meant for,  she answered in the affirmative,  saying that it was for the building of the Stephen James Stroke Centre.

"Negotiation for the land started in 2013 after the land was valued by a qualified estate agent. The initial price was N250m but after negotiation,  both parties agreed on N185m. I did not collect more than N185m", she said.

The case has been further adjourned to 4th and 5th, March 2019.

At the last adjourned date, the failure of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission, ICPC, to produce their witness stalled the trial.

They were arraigned before the court by the operatives of Independent Corrupt Practice Commission, ICPC,  on eight count charges of  misappropriation of  funds meant for the establishment of a stroke centre in Nigeria being funded through the defunct Subsidy Re-investment Empowerment Programme.

Both Professor Obaro and his wife had denied the allegation against them.

The ICPC was supposed to further present a witness in the court after the ruling on the admissibility of a document in the case,  but counsel to the commission told the court that his witness is not available in court.

Following the submission of ICPC counsel,  the court adjourned the case to January 17th, 2019.
Earlier, Mr. Seidu Mohammed, star witness of the ICPC had said that he did not interview relevant persons and government agencies before going ahead with the prosecution of ‎the medical practitioner and his wife.

Seidu, an investigator with the‎ ICPC told the court under crorss examination by the defence lawyer, Mr. John Nnaemeka Egwuonwu,  SAN, that the commission only acted on a petition it received against the defendants without interfacing with the former Chairmen of SURE-P and the Federal Ministry of Health, which authorized the release of the fund in question, before charging the defendants to court.
He told the court that the commission  did not find out from SURE-P how much the stroke centre will cost.
He said,   "In the course of my investigation, I did not interface with Dr Christopher Kolade, the then Chairman of SURE-P.
"I did not also interface with Dr.Martins Luther Agwai, the successor to Dr Christopher Kolade. I also did not interface with Mr Ishaya Akan, the last SURE-P Chairman before it was dissolved",he said.
Although, the witness acknowledged that SURE-P was under the direct supervision of the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF,  he pointed out that the only interface he had with the office was through a letter from the ICPC office to that office.
Seidu stressed further that he did not have any contact with the Federal Ministry of Health, despite the fact that the ministry was deeply involved before the seed grant was released to the defendants by SURE-P.
Asked if he made his findings from the SURE-P office in the course of his investigations, the witness said, "I did not find out from SURE-P the type of building to be built. I did not find out its cost and I did not find out the time line for the building to be completed".
He similarly said that he was not aware of whether SURE-P appointed external auditor for the defendants.
Seidu told the court that he never invited the defendants to confirm or deny the cash analysis he did on the money spent on the project so far.
He revealed also that he did not investigate whether the defendants organized an awareness campaign lecture in Abuja, "because the Commission (ICPC) saw it as unnecessary to so investigate it".
While a total sum of N450million was released by SURE-P for the project, the court heard that the defendants have so far spent over N300‎million additional personal money on the project.
According to the ICPC the actions of the husband and wife violated Sections 25 (1) (a), 15 and 16 of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act, 2000 and were punishable under the same sections.
Professor Obaro and his wife had proposed to SURE-P the establishment of a specialised stroke centre for the management of the rising incidence of stroke among Nigerians to be run by them for the government.

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