By Onozure Dania
Lagos—There was wild jubilation yesterday at a Lagos High Court sitting at Igbosere, when an estate agent, who is also a self-proclaimed site engineer, Babatunde Habeeb, was sentenced to 1,230 years imprisonment for duping unsuspecting accommodation seekers of N28 million.
Some of the victims, who were in court when the judgment was read, could not contain their joy. They ran out of the court and started screaming and thanking God for the judgment.
The serial dupe, also known as Babatunde Salawudeen, a younger brother to the 43-year-old property developer, Alhaji Ishola Salawudeen, who he connived with to dupe 101 prospective tenants of N28 million at 59 Oriola, in Alapere Ketu area of Lagos, was first arraigned before an Ebute-Metta Chief Magistrate’s Court with Ishola Salawudeen in 2013, and was granted bail, but later absconded.
Justice Oluwatoyin Ipaye found Habeeb guilty of the first count charge and sentenced him to 15 years imprisonment.
He was also sentenced to 15 years each from count two to 81 of the charge that was preferred against him.
While delivering judgment, Justice Ipaye said: “The defendants were motivated by greed; they set out to con the victims out of their hard-earned resources. I am satisfied that the convict and his brother acted together in the scam.
“Considering the prevalence of the crime in the society, there is a need to send a signal, as crimes like this portrays Nigeria in a bad light.
“From the overwhelming evidence and testimonies before the court, it was a deliberate ploy to defraud the prospective tenants. The prosecution has been able to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt and I resolve all the issues in the favour of the prosecution.”
Justice Ipaye said the sentence was to run concurrently, starting from March 12, 2014, when he was arrested by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
The judge added that “the property is hereby forfeited to the Federal Government, to be sold and the N28 million refunded to the victims.”
One of the victims, a 69-year-old retiree, Mrs Mariam Eboigbe, had told the court that her son and his wife accompanied her to the place and deposited N250,000 then later, the balance of N150,000.
According to her, she was told to come and collect the keys to the apartment on July 15, 2013, where she met other prospective tenants who also wanted to collect keys to the same apartment.
The convict, who was arrested in Mushin area of Lagos where he went to work as a bricklayer after he absconded, told the court that he was warned by his elder brother, Ishola Salawudeen, not to tell the victims that the 13 apartments had already been given out.
He admitted collecting various sums of money from the victims, some of which were paid directly to him and others into his account, with the victims issued receipts.
Convict’s lawyer begs
Earlier, before handing down the sentence, the judge asked the convict’s lawyer if he had anything to say to the court.
The convict’s lawyer pleaded with the court to temper justice with mercy, adding that he is still a young man, who is married with a child.
He said: “The defendant is still a young man and his stay in prison custody has taught him a bitter lesson that there is no gain in crime. He is a married man with a child to cater for; we plead with the court to temper justice with mercy.”
The EFCC prosecutor, Mr. Ben Ubi, told the court that he had filed an interim forfeiture of the property before a Federal High Court in Lagos, which was granted.
Ubi had alleged during the arraignment of the defendants at an Ikeja High Court in Lagos, that the defendants collected various sums of money from accommodation seekers between May and December 2013 in Lagos.
Ubi said they obtained the money from the complainants under the pretext of securing accommodation for them at 59, Oriola Street, Alapere, Ketu, a Lagos suburb.
He listed those swindled by the defendants to include Mrs Eboigbe, Vincent Anthony, Adebunmi Damola, Rilwan Lawal and Azeez Ogundiran, among others.
Ubi said their offences contravened Sections 1(1) and 8 (a) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act of 2006.