The High Court sitting in Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, has discharged and acquitted an Ijaw leader and former Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to the Governor, Mr Mike Wenibowei, of N10 million fraud allegations levelled against him by a co-SSA in 2013.
Barrister Kamaldeen Adekileku, who was the SSA to former Governor Timipre Sylva on Non-Indigene Affairs, had in 2013 dragged Wenibowei to court on a 5-count charge including conspiracy and stealing over alleged embezzlement of N10 million supposedly belonging to the plaintiff.
Wenibowei, who was then chairman of the Bayelsa State SSAs Forum, was charged alongside Ms Timi Ziriki who doubled as SSA on Persons Living with Disabilities and Secretary of the SSAs Forum for alleged connivance to embezzle the said N10 million.
Delivering judgement after nine years of a tortuous legal battle, the presiding judge, who is also the Chief Judge of Bayelsa State, Justice Kate Abiri, ruled that the plaintiff could not prove his case beyond reasonable doubt and therefore dismissed the case, discharging and acquitting the defendants.
Speaking to newsmen after his legal victory, Wenibowei, who is a former chairman of Ijaw Youth Council(IYC), Central Zone, and immediate past chairman of IYC Elders’ Forum, asserted that the court had further proven that it remains the last hope of the common man.
Going down memory lane, the Ijaw leader narrated that in 2013, the then governor, Chief Timipre Sylva, released the sum of N10 million each to a total of twenty-four SSAs as take-off grants comprising upkeeps and equipping of their offices, which amounted to N240 million, pointing out that the cash was released in three batches.
He recounted that before the appointment of Barrister Adekileku and the release of the expected money, it was unanimously agreed that one million naira would be deducted from each member for the running of the SSAs Forum.
Wenibowei further recalled that the plaintiff had prior to the release of the funds approached him (Wenibowei) for a refundable financial assistance to the tune of N5 million for the burial of his father that was coming up but he was able to raise only N4 million from his personal account and gave to the plaintiff, adding that Kalmar promised to appreciate him with the sum of N500,000 whenever the expected money was paid.
The defendant further noted that when the funds were released, he deducted the N1 million SSAs contribution, his N4 million and the N500,000 gratifications as agreed and handed a balance of N4.5 million to the secretary of the SSAs forum, Ms Timi Ziriki, pending the return of the complainant.
The defendant, however, narrated that his problem with Adekileku started when the latter returned from his journey to realize that he had been relieved of his appointment as SSA with an order from ‘above’ that his benefits be withdrawn.
His words: “So, when Barrister Kamaldeen returned from his journey, he was told that he had been dismissed from his office and that he was no longer entitled to any benefit. When Kalmadeen went to the SSAs Forum Secretary, she told him that she got instruction from the then Secretary to the State Government(SSG) not to release any money to him. The former SSA on Non Indigenes Affairs, Chief Chinedu Mba, also testified in the case.
“It was at that point that he (the plaintiff) now wrote a petition to the Economic and Finance Crimes Commission (EFCC) alleging that I connived with Timi Ziriki to eat his N10 million. But at the end of the day I was discharged and acquitted by the Chief Judge of Bayelsa State who was handling the case after nine years of battling with the EFCC to clear myself and sustain my hard earned reputation.”
He advised members of the public to continue to repose their confidence in the judiciary as the last hope of the common man.