By Abdallah el-Kurebe, Editor
#TrackNigeria: Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has convicted two officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) Christian Nwosu and Tijani Inda Bashir for alleged fraud involving N264,880,000.
According to a statement by the Acting Head, Media and Publicity of the Commission, Tony Orilade, the defendants were re-arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on March 7, 2018 on an amended nine-count charge bordering on money laundering in that amount.
One of the counts reads: “That you, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke (still at large), Christian Nwosu, Yisa Olanrewaju Adedoyin (now convicted) and Tijani Inda Bashir, on or about the 27th day of March, 2015, in Nigeria within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, conspired amongst yourselves to directly take possession of the N264,880,000 which sum you reasonably ought to have known, form part of the proceeds of an unlawful act to wit: gratification and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act, 2012 and punishable under Section 15(3) of the same Act.”
The defendants pleaded “not guilty” to the charges.
Justice Idris had on August 15, 2018 dismissed their “no-case” submission, and held that “after reviewing the evidence and exhibits before the court”, they had explanations to make.
At the resumed hearing today, January 24, 2019, prosecuting counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, notified the Court of the absence of Nwosu, and urged the court to continue with the proceedings “since he did not give any reason for his absence”.
“The absence of the first defendant is an indication that he has jumped the bail earlier granted him by the Court,” he added.
He further submitted that when both the prosecution and defence adopted their written addresses, “the court held that judgment would be delivered within 90 days and both parties agreed to the ruling”.
“My lord, the 90 days have elapsed,” he said.
Oyedepo, therefore, urged the court to proceed with the judgment, adding that anyone who is not happy with the outcome “should approach the Appeal Court”.
In his response, counsel for Nwosu, Obinna Okereke, told the court that his client left Enugu for Lagos to attend the proceedings, but “he collapsed immediately he arrived Lagos yesterday evening”.
“He was rushed and admitted to a hospital in Lagos,” he added.
Okereke then showed the court a letter he said was sent to him by Nwosu’s doctor. He told the court that there was “no dishonest reason for my client’s absence in court today.”
According to him, the defence had a pending motion before the Court of Appeal and urged the court to await the ruling of the appellate court before delivering the judgment.
However, in his response, Oyedepo said: “It is very unfortunate that Nwosu did not collapse all the way from Enugu till he arrived Lagos.”
Oyedepo urged the court not to rely on “a purported worthless medical paper”, adding that the said medical report showed that Nwosu was conscious and alert.
“It is a tactic to delay the judgment,” he added.
After listening to all the arguments, and reading the letter, Justice Idris, ruled that it was indeed, a tactic to delay the matter.
The trial judge held that: “Judgment was to be delivered after 90 days and both counsel had adopted their written addresses.
“I will proceed with the judgment in the absence of Nwosu on the grounds that the 90 days had elapsed.
“I have reviewed the evidence of the witnesses in the matter and the defendants’ defence. The evidence before the court showed that the N264 million was unlawfully laundered by the defendants because the transaction did not pass through any financial institution.
“The prosecution has proved his case beyond reasonable doubt”.
Justice Idris, thereafter, found the defendants “guilty”, and fixed January 25, 2019 for “sentencing”.
The court, further, ordered that Nwosu must be brought to court for the sentencing, while Tijani, should be remanded in EFCC custody.