The Federal High Court in Lagos on Thursday convicted a former governor of Abia State, Orji Kalu, of N7.1bn fraud and sentenced him to 12 years’ imprisonment.
The judgment, delivered by Justice Mohammed Idris, came 12 years after the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission filed fraud charges against Kalu in 2007.
Kalu was convicted alongside his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited, and Jones Udeogu, who served under him as the director of finance and account at the Abia State Government House in Umuahia.
While Udeogu was sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment, the judge ordered the winding up of Slok Nigeria Limited, holding that its assets and properties be forfeited to government.
Out of the 39 counts filed against the trio, the judge convicted Kalu of the entire 28 counts in which his name featured. On each of counts 1-11 and 39, he was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment; on each of counts 23-33, he was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment; and on each of counts 34-38, he was sentenced to 12 years’ imprisonment.
Justice Idris said the sentences should run concurrently, meaning that Kalu would spend 12 years in jail.
As for the second convict, Udeogu, Justice Idris found him guilty of 11 out of the 16 counts in which his name featured. He was pronounced not guilty on five counts. On each of counts 23-25 and 27-32, Udeogu was sentenced to three years’ imprisonment. On each of counts 34-38, he was sentenced to 10 years; while the judge gave him five years on count 39.
He said the sentences would run concurrently, meaning that Udeogu would spend 10 years in jail.
In respect of Slok Nigeria Limited, Justice Idris ruled, “An order is hereby made that the third convict shall without further assurances but from this order be wound up and all the assets and properties forfeited.”
In pronouncing the convicts guilty, Justice Idris said the EFCC proved its case beyond reasonable doubt.
He said, “I hold the view that the prosecution has established its case against the defendants; it did not fall short of the standard required by law in money laundering offences. It is clear upon the facts before this court that the prosecution had this case conclusively investigated before opting to bring this charge against the defendants. In other words, the prosecution did an in-depth and conclusive investigation.
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“In totality, I sincerely cannot find my way clear in finding these defendants not guilty of the offences charged. Having reviewed all that has been provided by the prosecution in terms of oral and documentary evidence, I am inclined to resolve the singular issue for determination in favour of the prosecution herein.”
Justice Idris said from the evidence before him, he found that Kalu violated his oath of office as a governor.
He said, “With due respect, I hold the view that the first defendant has failed in his obligation; it is unacceptable. With due respect, I state that the first defendant acted contrary to his oath of office and he shall accordingly be held responsible for his actions. All of those who have aided and abetted him will also be dealt with.
“Let me remind those who hold positions of authority in this country that they shall be held responsible for their conducts. When they act contrary to the law, the same law will catch up with them. I will like to borrow a leaf from the words of the late Dele Giwa, who stated that, ‘No evil deed will go unpunished; any evil done by man to man will be redressed, if not now, certainly later. If not by man, then by God, for the victory of evil over good is temporary.’
“It is in this light and circumstances that I again find the defendants guilty.”
He however added, “The defendants are, no doubt, first-time offenders and for this reason and keeping with the spirit of the ACJA, the court will temper justice with mercy but only in accordance with the dictates of the law.”
Try your cabinet members, PDP tells Buhari
Reacting to the judgment, the Peoples Democratic Party said the conviction of Kalu did not show any serious fight against graft by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
The PDP National Publicity Secretary, Mr Kola Ologbondiyan, in an interview with one of our correspondents in Abuja on Thursday, said the trial of Kalu predated Buhari’s administration.
Ologbondiyan said, “What year did the trial of Kalu begin? Who was in power then? As far as we are concerned, until Buhari begins to try members of his cabinet and the people that have been accused of corruption under him, we have not seen any fight against corruption.
“The trial of Orji Kalu predates Buhari’s administration. So there is no need for the APC and President Buhari’s government to gloat over any conviction. If Buhari wants to really fight corruption, he should look inward.”
The Chairman of the All Progressives Congress in Abia State, Donatus Nwankpa, said in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria that he was disappointed by the judgment.
Nwankpa said, “The party will meet to take a position on the judgment but as an individual, I am very saddened by the judgment.
Kalu’s conviction, proof of Buhari’s sincerity -BMO
But the Buhari Media Organisation said the conviction and sentencing of Uzor-Kalu was further a proof that the war against corruption was in full swing.
In a statement signed by its Chairman, Niyi Akinsiju, and Secretary, Cassidy Madueke, the BMO argued that the conviction of a high ranking APC chieftain proved that the courts were indeed independent.
“For some time, the Peoples Democratic Party and its supporters have been casting aspersion on the anti-corruption crusade.
SERAP hails judgment
An anti-corruption advocacy group, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, hailed the judgment and commended the EFCC for the diligent prosecution of the case.
SERAP’s Deputy Director, Kolawole Oludare, said, “The judgment will send a strong message that public officials will be held to account for corruption, regardless of the status. The Nigerian authorities have to do more to bring to justice high-ranking politicians suspected of grand corruption regardless of their status or political affiliations, and fully recover stolen public funds.”