Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court, Lagos, has convicted two former officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Christian Nwosu and Tijani Bashir, charged with N264.8 million gratification and money laundering.
The trial judge, Justice Idris, who has been elevated to the Court of Appeal, concluded the case with a special fiat given to him by the President of Court of Appeal, Justice Zainab Adamu Bulkachuwa.
Justice Idris found Nwosu an ex-administrative secretary of INEC and his colleague, Bashir, guilty of the charge preferred against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC)
The court, however, adjourned the sentence of the convicts, until Friday to enable the first convict (Nwosu) who was absent in court to appear.
EFCC had preferred a criminal charge against the convicts and one Yisa Adedoyin, who had already been convicted by the court after he pleaded guilty to the charges.
In the charge, former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Allison-Madueke, was mentioned to be at large.
The convicts were said to have accepted cash gratification from Diezani in the build-up to the 2015 general elections.
The anti-graft agency accused them of accepting the said gratification, which they reasonably ought to have known formed part of the proceeds of an unlawful act.
The convicts were re-arraigned after their co-accused (Adedoyin) had opted to change his plea by admitting to being complicit in the offences charged.
Nwosu also had earlier pleaded guilty to the charge when they were first arraigned before the court but later change his plea to not guilty after plea bargain arrangement with EFCC failed.
After the conclusion of the trial, parties adopted their final addresses on November 8, 2018, and the court had adjourned until Jan. 23 for judgment.
On January 23, the court was ready to read its judgment, but counsel to the first convict, Mr Victor Opara, informed the court of a sick leave certificate for Nwosu, from a hospital in Enugu, in which he was placed on bed rest.
He had urged the court to grant an adjournment to a further date, to enable Nwosu to appear.
In opposition, the prosecutor Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, vehemently urged the court to proceed with its “business” of the day, adding that such excuses were aimed at “arresting” the court’s judgment.
In the interest of justice, however, Justice Idris further adjourned the case until Thursday for judgment and ordered that Nwosu be brought to court unfailingly
When the case was called on Thursday, Mr Obinna Okereke announced appearance for Nwosu and informed the court that the convict was immediately informed to come down from Enugu after the court issued the order.
He, however, said that after Nwosu arrived Lagos, he was informed that he fainted at the park and had to be rushed to a hospital at Ajangbadi in Lagos, where his Blood Pressure was said to have read 200/140
He also urged the court to grant a short adjournment to enable his appearance in court adding that there was also a subsisting appeal in the instant case before the Court of Appeal.
Again, Oyedepo objected to the prayer for adjournment and citing the provisions of sections 305 and 314 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act and urged the court to proceed.
The prosecutor described the request as a gimmick to stop the judgement.
In a bench ruling, Justice Idris dismissed the request for adjournment on the grounds that by the provisions of the law, his judgment ought to be delivered within 90 days after adoption of addresses.
Delivering his judgment afterwards, which lasted for 47 minutes, Idris gave a clear insight as to what constituted money laundering, conspiracy, as well as circumstantial evidence.
The court held that it was satisfied from the testimonies of prosecution’s witnesses, and the evidence tendered such as receipts of payments duly signed by the convicts, that the prosecution had been able to discharge the burden of proof on it, which in any case needed not to be total.
Again, the court held that it was not in doubt that the convicts were guilty of the offences of conspiracy, as they both met in the bank to accept the cash payments of N70.05 million and N30 million out of the total sum of N264.8 million dole out by the ex-petroleum minister.
Following the absence of the first accused, the court deferred his sentencing to January 24 and ordered that the second accused who was present in court, be remanded in the EFCC custody pending sentence.
The court will deliver its sentence at 12.noon.