Alleged N3.1bn Fraud: Eight years after, EFCC begins fresh trial of ex-Governor Suswam


The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Thursday re-arraigned a former Benue State Governor, Gabriel Suswam before a Federal high court sitting in Abuja over alleged diversion of about N3.1 billion belonging to the people of the state.

That was after the case which commenced eight years ago, had moved from one level of court to another and from one judge to other judges without any progress.

BAR & BENCH WATCH reports that Suswam is facing trial alongside his Commissioner of Finance, Omadachi Okolobia, before the high court on an 11-count money laundering charge.

They were alleged to have diverted the fund from the proceeds of the sale of shares owned by the Benue government

But Suswam and Okolobia, pronto, took turn to enter a plea of  not guilty when the charge was read to them.

Defence lawyers – Adedayo Adedeji (SAN) for Suswam and Paul Erokoro (SAN) for Okolobia – subsequently applied for bail for the defendants.

Both lawyers urged the court to allow the defendants to continue to enjoy the bail earlier granted to them by the previous trial judge, Justice Ahmed Mohammed.

The lawyer to the prosecution, Oluwaleke Atolagbe, did not object to the defence lawyers’ request.

Atolagbe, however, disagreed with the defence lawyers’ claim that the defendants had always attended every previous proceeding in the case.

When asked by Justice Lifu if the defendants’ previous sureties were still available, Adedeji and Erokoro said yes.

The judge then proceeded to admit the defendants to bail and adopted the conditions attached to the previous bail.

Justice Lifu, who noted that the case has decorated the docket for many years said he did not want to be part of the case’s chequered history.

Suswam was Benue’s governor from 2007 to 2015, while Oklobia served under him as the Finance Commissioner.

Suswam thereafter became a Senator representing Benue North-East Senatorial District on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from 2019 to 2023 when he lost his reelection bid to Emmanuel Udende of the All Progressives Congress (APC).

Suswam and Okolobia were first arraigned before Justice Mohammed in November 2015.

Midway into the trial, Justice Mohammed withdrew from the case, citing some online publications, accusing him of being influenced to accord Suswam a “soft landing.”

Upon Justice Mohammed’s withdrawal, the case was reassigned to Justice Okon Abang, who promptly commenced the hearing.

The prosecution was to call its fourth witness before Justice Abang when, upon an appeal by Suswam, the Court of Appeal in Abuja, in a judgment in February 2020 ordered that the case be returned to Justice Mohammed because he did not properly withdraw from the case.

Court of Appeal held that it was not satisfied with the reason given by Justice Mohammed for recusing himself from the case, adding that the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court equally erred in re-assigning the matter to another judge.

The case was then returned to Justice Mohammed, before whom the prosecution closed its case last December.

The defendants were expected to open their defence when the National Judicial Council (NJC), earlier this year, announced Justice Mohammed’s elevation to the Court of Appeal, necessitating the case to start de novo.

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