By Princess Kama
Princess Kama, erstwhile business partner of Benjamin Joseph, owner of Citadel Oracle Concepts Limited, an Ibadan-based ICT retail firm, has broken her silence over a long-drawn dispute involving a N170m contract with the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) which has seen Mr. Benjamin Joseph standing trial for falsely petitioning the Federal Government, alleging that the Zinox Chairman, Leo Stan Ekeh and others colluded in defrauding it and his company in executing the said contract.
Princess disclosed that Benjamin is an ingrate who attempted to get her support in diverting Mr. Ekeh’s company fund and join in a smear campaign against Mr. Ekeh, while also expressing surprise that the matter was still a subject of debate in the courts and in the media.
‘‘It has been nearly a decade. For those who do not know, I stood trial in this case along with Mr. Onny Igbokwe, owner of AD’MAS Digital Technologies Ltd. Our only offence was trying to help someone who was my business partner back then and who also wanted me to marry him but whom I rejected. However, I thank God that justice prevailed in the end after the case was tried fully on its merits. We (I and Mr. Onny Igbokwe) were both discharged and acquitted by an FCT High Court on 24th February 2021 presided by Honourable Justice Senchi in Charge No. FCT/HC/CR/244/2018, with a sum of N20m awarded as damages against the complainant, Mr. Benjamin Joseph, for false and malicious petitioning and prosecution, and to serve as a deterrent against persons seeking to lodge false petitions with the investigative agencies. So, I am surprised to discover only recently that he is still going around sponsoring all manner of fake write-ups on the same case in which he has a subsisting judgment awarded against him.’’
While stating that the contract in question was awarded as far back as 2012, Princess revealed that Mr. Ekeh was not involved in anyway and neither was his wife because the value of the contract wasn’t that much. She added that it was a business transaction between Citadel Oracle Concepts Ltd. which she was representing at the time and Technology Distributions Ltd., (TD Africa), one of the companies which Mr. Ekeh founded. Furthermore, she added that TD had indeed aided Citadel in executing the contract by extending an interest-free credit facility to it, without which it would have been extremely difficult to deliver as the banks were unwilling to fund the contract and Citadel was not financially strong to fund the business. Consequently, she stated that her conscience and integrity would not permit her to allow Benjamin to continue in his ongoing campaign, which she described as ‘a gross act of ingratitude and an attempt to arm-twist or blackmail Mr. Ekeh for no reason’.
‘‘I have kept a studied silence over the years in this case for obvious reasons. But I must confess that I was shocked to learn recently that this matter is still being reported actively in the media as if it happened today. For the benefit of those in the dark, I aided Benjamin Joseph for a while after he came to me in his time of difficulty in his business. I helped him bid for many contracts using my experience and contacts but when we won part of the FIRS contract, it was hard securing a bank loan to fund the business.
‘‘We approached TD like other vendors did. TD is the biggest authorized distributors of HP and other OEMs in the country. However, Benjamin’s company was rejected because Citadel Oracle Concepts Ltd. had no credit history with them. Mr. Onny Igbokwe, whose company, AD’MAS Digital Technologies Ltd, also through me got part of the same contract from FIRS had been a long-time trading partner of TD’s, agreed to guarantee Citadel for the credit facility after meeting with him (Benjamin) in Lagos. This was how we were able to get TD to fund the contract on our behalf, same as they did for other vendors who won similar lots for the FIRS contract.
‘‘Joseph gave me a duly signed letter of authority and a copy of his international passport and other corporate documents of his company, Citadel Oracle Concepts Limited, empowering me to act on his behalf in bidding for and executing the contract, and this letter was submitted to the FIRS. He also swore on oath in his Witness Statement on Oath in the civil case at Lagos High Court where he admitted this letter and other documents that he gave to me. His Statement on Oath is before the court, so he cannot deny it.
‘‘The account opened for the disbursement of the proceeds of the contract was also approved by him as he issued a duly signed Board resolution for it, which a forensic analysis report has confirmed was not forged. No official of TD was responsible for this. In order to safeguard their funds, however, TD insisted that two of its staff, Mr. Chris Ozims and Mrs. Shade Oyebode, would be signatories to the account. This was the only security held by TD for payment for the laptops supplied to Citadel on credit. We agreed to this and TD swiftly delivered all the laptops complete to the FIRS on our behalf. When the money for the contract was paid, TD duly deducted the pre-agreed sum for the laptops supplied on our behalf. This was when trouble started,’’ she stated.
Revealing that Benjamin had wanted to divert the entire funds received, Princess disclosed that she resisted the move, placing her in the line of her erstwhile business partner’s fire.
‘‘I refused Joseph’s attempts to divert the funds because my integrity was at stake. Here was a company that supported us with an interest-free facility, despite having no prior business relationship with them and whom Joseph now wanted to cheat. Mind you, Mr. Igbokwe was also a guarantor for Citadel. Therefore, going along with Joseph’s plan would have hurt a lot of innocent persons. So, I resisted it.
‘‘This infuriated him and he demanded to take all the profits from the contract which I also resisted because we had a pre-agreed sharing percentage. Chief Afe Babalola, who represented him at the time, tried to intervene by asking me to concede a larger portion of the profit to him but Benjamin was greedy and wanted all. It was at this point that he turned around to claim that he was not aware of the contract, that his company was fraudulently used to execute the contract with a fake Board resolution, and that no single laptop was supplied. Why didn’t he report to the Police earlier if indeed a fraud was perpetrated on his company?”
‘‘He petitioned the Police Special Fraud Unit Lagos (SFU), the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and later the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo. But where he failed is when he accused Mr. Ekeh, his wife and other staff of TD of involvement in the alleged fraud. It was strange because neither Mr. Ekeh nor his wife had ever met or transacted any personal business with Citadel or Mr. Joseph or myself. TD is a very big company that I transacted with officers at the middle level. Our transaction value was small to influence our meeting Mrs. Ekeh. At this point, he started engaging some unscrupulous media persons to embark on a campaign of calumny against Mr. Ekeh, thinking that he will get Mr. Ekeh’s attention to pay more. I am not sure who gave him the idea that Mr. Ekeh has a lot of money and could give more money just to have peace. But this failed.
‘‘Thankfully, all the investigations by the Police SFU and the EFCC proved that Benjamin was spreading falsehood as forensic analysis of the documents we used to bid for the contract showed that they were duly signed by him. Also, the FIRS confirmed that all the laptops were duly supplied. The investigations equally exonerated all the staff of TD and Mr. Ekeh, who was not even involved in any way with the transaction. Sadly though, the EFCC charged me and Mr. Onny Igbokwe to court due to the internal issues we were having with Benjamin in Charge No. CR/244/2018 before the FCT High Court. However, after a full trial that lasted for more than two years, we were eventually discharged and acquitted in 2021, as earlier stated. The judgment of the court clearly dismissed all the allegations of Mr. Benjamin Joseph and awarded the sum of N20million as damages against him for false information. It is instructive to note that the staff of TD only testified as prosecution witnesses in that case. Neither the EFCC investigative report nor the judgment of the court indicted them in any way. The judgment is now a public document, so anyone is free to go and read it to know the truth of the matter.
‘‘It is sad that an innocent man who knew nothing about this transaction is being dragged into this matter, maybe with a view to destroy him. It is evident that Benjamin is most probably being backed by Mr. Ekeh’s competitors as he has no capacity for this. Their intention is to see Mr. Ekeh appear in court to rubbish his image. But to what ends? I consider it an insult that the founder of a company that funded a contract for us and many other bidders is being accused of fraudulently converting a paltry sum of N170m. This is clearly a case of biting the fingers that fed you and one of the reasons it is hard to get assistance in today’s business world.
‘‘I must also express my disappointment, especially when I read that Femi Falana took on the brief of defending Mr. Benjamin Joseph who is still facing another criminal trial on this same case, without even as much as an attempt to probe the facts or background. He can reach out to his fellow SAN, Chief Afe Babalola, for instance, to understand or verify the disagreement that led to this juncture.
‘‘As I said earlier, Mr. Benjamin Joseph reported this case to both the Police SFU and the EFCC. These are the only investigative agencies who investigated this case and the only places we made written statements. If he claims that the SFU Report and the EFCC Report indicted Mr. Ekeh and his wife and other staff of TD, let him obtain copies and make them public instead of making noise. How can the SFU report have indicted Mr. Ekeh or his wife or any staff of TD when it was the SFU Investigative Officer that testified against Mr. Benjamin Joseph in criminal case No. CR/216/16 that the Police brought against him for false information?
‘‘I am aware that he says he is relying on a certain report by a certain Special Enquiry Bureau of the Police to whom he wrote a petition in 2015. We were neither invited by the Special Enquiry Bureau nor did we make any statement to them. This is what he is carrying about as a report. Let him present any letter of invitation from the Bureau to any of us, including Mr. Ekeh, his wife, and the staff of TD, or any statement any of us made to the Bureau. How can there be a report where the ‘suspects’ were neither invited nor made statements? What Benjamin Joseph is hiding from the public is that the Police Force Headquarters Abuja, by a subsequent comprehensive report dated 1st December 2020, discredited and disclaimed the so-called report of the Bureau as baseless and invalid, as it was based only on the statement of Mr. Joseph without hearing from the other parties.
‘‘The Police report of 1st December 2021 emphatically said that the only investigation and authentic report was the one done by the Police SFU at Lagos. I believe that it is this invalid and discredited report that Femi Falana used to apply for a fiat in May 2022, as they are claiming, and they also conveniently hid from the Attorney General the fact that there is a subsisting judgment of the FCT High Court that has dismissed the allegations of Mr. Benjamin Joseph. It was after these hidden facts were made available to the Attorney-General that he gave the Police a letter in June 2022 to rather continue the prosecution of Mr. Benjamin Joseph to a logical conclusion, thereby reversing himself on the fiat. So, I believe that Mr. Ekeh was right to say that there is no case pending against him or his wife or staff of TD or any of us. I know that since there is a judgment by a competent court dismissing as false the set of facts forming the allegation of Mr. Benjamin Joseph, those facts and allegation cannot be used again to try me or any other party mentioned in the allegation, as long as that judgment subsists. Whatever charge that is filed, based on those allegations, is dead on arrival. My lawyers are taking steps to strike it out. So, the fact that we are challenging it does not mean that anyone, including Mr. Ekeh, is defending the charge, as I hear Mr. Benjamin Joseph say in his press statement. It is only consequential that it be struck out since the basis of the fiat has been overtaken by events.
‘‘Lastly, it is worthy to note that based on the letter of the Attorney-General to the Police to continue with the prosecution of Mr. Benjamin Joseph to a logical conclusion, his trial continues on 3rd November 2022 before Honourable Justice Peter Kekemeke of the FCT High Court. If he believes in his innocence, he should present his case in court and stop this media trial and hype. Why is he afraid to conclude his defense and be cross-examined after opening his defense for over two years but would rather be running to the press to curry undue public sympathy and tarnish innocent people’s image?’’ she queried.
‘‘In all these, I am just a victim of someone who repays good with evil. Be that as it may, I will never be weary of doing good and I count it all joy.’’