The long-drawn saga over an alleged N170m Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) contract involving Benjamin Joseph, self-acclaimed Managing Director of a tech company, Citadel Oracle Concepts Ltd., reached a new turn recently when Princess Kama, a former associate of Joseph, told a Federal High Court how the plaintiff’s allegations bordered on a betrayal of trust.
Princess Kama, testifying as to the first defendant as the defence opened its case on Thursday, January 30, 2020; noted that Joseph has turned around to falsely accuse her of fraud after she helped him win and execute a contract for the supply of laptops to the FIRS in 2012.
Specifically, Princess Kama told the court how she singlehanded helped Joseph, who she described as a former friend, to win the FIRS contract. Princess Kama disclosed that she invested her personal funds, resources and network to not only win the contract but also financed its execution by Citadel Oracle Concepts.
She told the judge: “My Lord, I used my money and experience to package the bids. When the award was given to Citadel, we met with the point-person at Utako to agree on the sharing formula of the profit. We agreed that Mr Joseph will take the profit from one of the three lots. All the agreement was verbal, based on trust, in view of our over 10 years’ of friendship.
“The genesis of the whole problem was the decision to transfer the N38 million profit to him. But he wanted me to bring the entire value of the contract including the invoice value of the laptops supplied to us on credit by Technology Distributions. I refused because TD is supposed to take the agreed invoice value of the laptops while we take the profit,” Kama said.
Indeed, in his statement of claim in a civil suit no. LD/4335/14 at the Lagos High Court, Joseph admitted that he issued a Letter of Authority to the FIRS with copies of his company’s corporate papers, accepting the contract and appointing Princess Kama as his authorized representative to handle the transaction. Kama had subsequently approached Technology Distributions Ltd., Sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest product distributors and an authorized HP distributor, for assistance in executing the contract by supplying to them the laptops on credit for onward delivery to the FIRS.
In view of previous bad experience and in order to avoid exposing the business to bad loans, TD had nominated its staff – Mr. Chris Eze Ozims and Mrs. Shade Oyebode – to be signatories to an account opened for the purpose of disbursement of funds as regards the contract, solely as security for the laptops supplied on credit. Upon payment of the sum for the contract, TD had gone ahead to deduct the invoiced sum of the supplied laptops and had its staff resign as signatories to the account.
However, Joseph turned around to allege fraud.
Meanwhile, Princess Kama told the court on Thursday that Joseph was offered N10 million during a reconciliation meeting with Chief Babalola he attended along with other parties in Ado Ekiti.
As a matter of fact, this was initially confirmed by Joseph. In his Statement of Claim and Witness Statement on Oath filed by Joseph in the civil suit No. LD/4335/14 at the Lagos High Court, Joseph clearly admitted in paragraphs 36 and 37 that meetings were held between him, the said Princess Kama and Chief Igbokwe at his then-counsel, Afe Babalola’s office in Ado Ekiti on September 26th, 2013. Additionally, Joseph admitted in paragraph 34 that Afe Babalola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) wrote letters dated August 2nd, 2013 on his behalf to Princess Kama and Chief Igbokwe.
Surprisingly, Joseph denied it all immediately Ms. Kama gave her testimony on Thursday, January 30th when the defence opened its case.
“My Lord, I never attended any meeting with Afe Babalola. All are cooked up lies,’’ Joseph who dramatically wept openly in court said. However, this is quite contradictory to his Witness Statement of Oath, as seen by this medium, filed in the said civil suit at the Lagos High Court, where he narrated the meetings and the letters written by Afe Babalola SAN on his behalf.
Meanwhile, at the penultimate hearing of the case on Tuesday, November 12, 2019, Joseph who was scheduled to testify and give evidence as to the fifth prosecution witness, was not in court, for undisclosed reasons.
In his place, his legal counsel, Mouka Jude, tendered in court a letter addressed by Joseph to the acting director in the legal unit of the EFCC, Abubakar Madaki, in which said he no longer had any interest to give evidence in the case.
“In view of the foregoing and the concerns raised in this correspondence, I express my sincere reservations about the modus and the end objective of the criminal trial above referenced. Regrettably, I do not feel in this circumstance that it would be safe for me to testify in this case with Mr Jude Obazuwa as the prosecutor, believing that he would lead me in destroying myself in the circumstance,” Joseph said.
Indeed, his resolve not to give evidence in the case was widely reported by some media houses including Premium Times on November 13, 2019, and Nigerian Herald on the same date.
Consequently, the EFCC prosecutor Obazuwa had no option than to close the case of the prosecution. Thereafter, the case was adjourned to 30th January 2020 for the defence to open their case.
Once again, Joseph suddenly made a volte-face at the resumed hearing on Thursday, January 30, 2020. He broke existing court protocols, asking Justice D. Senchi, for an opportunity to testify. Even though the Prosecutor made an oral application to reopen his case, His Lordship ruled against him as the court noted that it had adjourned twice for Joseph to give evidence but he refused to testify. Equally important, the court noted that Joseph was in court on 24th September 2019 but failed to testify and the matter was adjourned to 12th November 2019 but he, again, failed to turn up. The court viewed it as a ploy to further delay the case. When Joseph witnessed the gravity of the testimony of Kama as against his self-induced lost opportunity to testify, he broke down in tears in court, clearly regretting his decision not to testify before the prosecution closed its case. At this point, he became dramatic; weeping and rolling and appealing to the judge to testify in the case.
In court, Joseph alleged that the prosecutor refused to tender additional documents he gave to him. “My Lord, the prosecutor has refused to present the passport and other documents about the crime in court. Everything they are saying are lies, my Lord. Chief Afe Babalola is still alive My Lord,” he wailed.
However, the prosecutor maintained that the prosecution had factored in all the documents Joseph submitted during investigations before opening and closing his case. He made it clear that he is proceeding on the report and the documents given to him by the investigative team. Indeed, a case can only be tried based on documents that formed proof of evidence and not documents generated by a complainant mid-course, which the investigative team had no opportunity to look at to ascertain their veracity.
Moreover, such personal documents could only be tendered through Mr. Joseph but he refused to testify. Indeed, the prosecutor could not have tendered Joseph’s personal international passport through the Kama or any other witness who has never seen the document and never had any dealings with it.
In addition, Joseph, in court, claimed that the EFCC prosecutor slapped him in his office, an allegation denied by Obazuwa, as that cannot be supported by the CCTV evidence in their office. He said he only refused to shake Joseph who was following him around to shake his hand for reasons he could not understand.
The defence is expected to continue its case against Joseph when the trial resumes.
Indeed, this case bordering on alleged N170m contract has a chequered history. Mr. Joseph and his company, Citadel Oracle Concepts Limited, had initially reported to Chief Afe Babalola Chambers that his company was used to defraud the FIRS by Princess Kama and her allies and that the laptops were not supplied.
When Princess Kama narrated the true story with documentary proof including a letter of authority signed by him, Joseph withdrew from Afe Babalola Chambers and petitioned the EFCC, Lagos who investigated and saw no merit in his complaint. He then lodged another complaint with Special Fraud Unit (SFU) of the Nigerian Police, Ikoyi, alleging that his signature on the board resolution to open the account at Access Bank was forged. The SFU launched an investigation at FIRS offices and confirmed that the laptops were supplied with serial numbers intact. Mr. Joseph then filed another petition to the Nigerian Police (Force CID) Headquarters, Abuja, who conducted another round of investigations.
However, since the crux of the matter was the denial by Joseph of not signing the Board Resolution to open the account with which the FIRS remitted payment for the supplied HP laptops, the Police sent the documents for forensic analysis to determine its veracity. The evidence proved that the documents were not forged, and were actually signed by him. Consequently, the Police charged him for false petitioning and deceit in Charge Number CR/216/16 before an Abuja High Court.
Mr. Joseph is still standing trial in that case and is expected to open his defence since the prosecution has concluded its own case in 2019.
The case comes up on February 25, 2020.