A prosecution witness, Ms Thelma Coco-Bassey, on Wednesday alleged that Adeshina Ogunlana, a former Chairman, Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Ikeja branch, accused of N20.1 million fraud, lavishly spent money belonging to the association, which he allegedly kept in polythene bags.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Ogunlana, who served as the branch’s chairman from 2016 to 2018, is standing trial alongside Yinka Farounbi, also a former Chairman of the branch (2014 to 2016).
They were charged along with a former Treasurer of the branch, Aderinola Kappoa.
The trio is facing a 30-count charge of stealing and money laundering preferred by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The anty-graft agency alleged that they connived and defrauded the body of lawyers of N20.1 million.
The defendants, however, pleaded not guilty.
Led in evidence by prosecution counsel, Mr Samuel Daji, Coco-Bassey, who served as the branch’s Treasurer during Ogunlana’s tenure and Financial Secretary during Farounbi’s tenure, testified that the defendants engaged in financial impropriety.
“All through the administration of the first defendant (Ogunlana) as the Chairman of my branch, I as the Treasurer did not know how he was getting money or expending it.
“At no time did the executives (exco) approve any expenditure; he always did things without exco knowing.
“It was when I was briefed at the EFCC that I knew that the second defendant (Farounbi) and the third defendant (Kappo) were signing cheques into the account of the first defendant.
“I now know the reason the first defendant became a very lavish spender during his administration. He was always carrying money in polythene bags and spending money at will,” she said.
Coco-Bassey told the court that when she assumed office as the Treasurer, she made attempts to no avail to get Kappo, her predecessor, to handover cheques and other financial instruments in her possession.
According to her, unsuccessful requests were also made to Ogunlana to persuade Kappo to handover the documents.
She added that an executive committee meeting was held in November 2017 over the issue.
“Throughout the tenure of the first defendant, the executive committee rarely had meetings until November 2017 when Ogunlana called for a meeting and almost all the officers were in attendance.
“Ogunlana said the sole agenda of the meeting was the handing over of the accounts. At that meeting, he told the rest of the exco, ‘I cannot work with this treasurer, a treasurer who equates herself with the chairman’.
“He then informed the exco that he had asked Kappo to handover the cheque books to him, that he would have custody of the cheque books.”
The witness said that when Ogunlana
sought reactions from members of the exco, the Vice-Chairman under him, Mrs Caroline Ibharunaefe, told him it was not right.
“Mr Ajbola Akinwale, the Public Relations Officer opened Section 7(5) of the NBA Constitution, read it aloud and told Ogunlana to hand all the cheque books to me.
“Instead, he laughed sarcastically and told the exco that unfortunately the said bye-laws Akinwale read gave him wide range of powers to do anything as Chairman,” Coco-Bassey said.
The witness said though she was always available for duty, cheque books and other financial instruments were not entrusted to her, adding that Ogunlana never discussed finances with members of the executive committee
When cross-examined by Ogunlana’s counsel, Mr Akinola Olatunji, Coco-Bassey said she joined the NBA, Ikeja branch, in 2009.
She reiterated that though she was the treasurer, Ogunlana kept her in the dark about the finances of the association.
She also denied making allegations against Ogunlana due to previous animosity between them.
“During his tenure, Ogunlana was the sole administrator of the Ikeja Branch of the NBA,” the witness said.
When cross-examined by Mr Olu Daramola (SAN), counsel to Farounbi, Coco-Bassey also testified that Farounbi engaged in financial impropriety.
“I have memos and documents to show that during Farounbi’s tenure, there was financial impropriety.
“I wrote letters to past chairmen who are elders of the Bar, drawing their attention to dealings in the Bar.
“I attached memos; monies were also not accounted for by the second defendant during his regime. I can give many examples,” she said.
NAN reports that during proceedings on July 9, Mrs Caroline Ibharunaefe, who served as the Vice-Chairman during Ogunlana’s tenure, told the court that Ogunlana, at various times, withdrew a total of N20.1 million from the branch’s account without authorisation from the executive committee.
“He never really consulted the exco on the expenses of the association; he was like a sole administrator,” Ibharunaefe said.
Justice Mojisola Dada adjourned the case until Oct. 21 for continuation of trial.