By Gab Ejuwa
Two clergymen, Pastor Glory Okeoghene Abrefera and Reverend Vincent Okpogho, have been sentenced to 20 years imprisonment with a fine of N8 million for operating voodoo banking in Warri, targeted at defrauding unsuspecting depositors of over N1 billion.
Delivering judgement in the case which spanned over two years, Justice Ibrahim Buba said the clerics were convicted on a two-count charge of operating a bank without a valid license, contrary to sections two (2) and 49 (1) of the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act.
Buba explained that the Mustard Seed Micro Investment Limited was convicted on two counts and fined N2 million on each of them while the two clergymen, both directors of the firm, were to spend 10 years behind bars in addition to N2 million fine on each of the counts against them. However, their jail term were to run concurrently.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) prosecuted the case.
The activities of the voodoo banking operators came to fore following a petition by Chief Tuoyo Awani, Pa Fregene, Manei Johnson and others, alerting the authorities and the general public over their activities.
According to Awani, the activities of the bank became suspicious when it became clear to some of the depositors that the bank could not give accurate amount of deposits at its disposal.
The petitioner said the depositors were cajoled into believing that the “bank” was operated by “men of God”.
He, however, advised Nigerians to be wary of dubious characters, particularly those who operate under the guise of “men of God” in order to avoid losing their money.
Awani expressed optimism that depositors may not lose all as the court had appointed liquidators to oversee what remains of Mustard See Micro Investment Limited with a view to repaying them.
Mr. John Okoriko, counsel to the convicted clergymen, said the company was not run as a bank.
Okoriko said throughout the legal battle none of the prosecution witnesses testified that they opened an account with Mustard Seeds Micro Ltd nor used cheque books, drafts and other banking documents during the period. But counsel to the EFCC, Mr. Gbolahan Latona, commended the judge for a brilliant and well-researched judgment, saying the verdict would go down as a watershed in the history of the judiciary and enrich the judicial process.