By Sandra Umeh
Former Gov. Orji Kalu of Abia on Thursday joined the list of ex-governors convicted of corruption as a Federal High Court in Lagos found him guilty of N7.2 billion fraud and money laundering.
Justice Muhammed Idris convicted Kalu on all the 39 counts preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and sentenced him to a concurrent jail term of 12 years.
The EFCC prosecuted Kalu for 12 years together with Jones Udeogo, the state Commissioner for Finance during his tenure as the governor.
Kalu’s company, Slok Nig. Ltd. was charged along with Kalu and Udeogo.
In a 288-page judgement, Idris also found Udeogo guilty on 34 counts and sentenced him to a concurrent jail term of 10 years.
The judge also found Slok Nig. Ltd. is guilty on all the 39 counts.
On counts one, two, three and four, Idris sentenced Kalu to five years’ imprisonment each, while on counts six to 11, he sentenced the former governor to three years’ imprisonment each.
On counts 23 to 33, he sentenced him to three years’ imprisonment each, while on counts 34 to 38, he sentenced him to 12 years jail term each.
On the last count, the judge sentenced Kalu to five years’ imprisonment.
The court sentenced Udeogo to three years’ imprisonment on counts 23 to 33 and sentenced him to 10 years imprisonment on counts 34 to 38.
He sentenced him to five years’ imprisonment on count 39. The judge held that the sentences should run concurrently.
The court ordered that Slok Nig. Ltd. should be wound up and all its assets forfeited to the Federal Government.
Idris warned public officers to eschew corruption as they were trustees of public funds.
“Officers swear to uphold the fundamental objectives and directive principles of state policies as contained in the constitution.
“The defendant pledged that in the exercise of his tenure as governor, he would not to allow his personal interest to influence his official conduct.
“He pledged to devote himself to the service and wellbeing of his people in accordance with the provisions of the law and not to endanger the continuance of his country.
“With due respect, I hold the view that the first defendant has failed in his obligation under the constitution; with due respect, I hold that the defendant has acted contrary to his oath of office and he shall be held responsible.
He said that those who aided and abated Orji Kalu would also be brought to book.
“Let me remind those who hold positions of authority in this country that they shall all be held responsible for their conducts; when they act contrary to the law, the same law shall be applied.
“Let me also borrow from the words of the late Dele Giwa when he stated: `No evil deed shall go unpunished, any evil done by man shall be accounted for if not now, later’.
“It is in this light and for the forgoing, that I find the defendants guilty.
Reports have it that EFCC had on Oct. 31, 2016, preferred a 34-count charge bordering on N3.2 billion fraud against the convicts.
The charges were on Orji Kalu, however, on July 16, 2018, amended and increased to 39 counts, with the sum increased to N7.2 billion.
The convicts had each pleaded not guilty to the charge and were granted bail.
In May 2018, Idris, who was trying the case, was elevated to the Court of Appeal.
He, however, concluded the trial by a fiat from the Court of Appeal President.
Following the accelerated hearing, Idris concluded the trial of the defendants in August 2019 and adjourned the case for adoption of addresses.
On Oct. 22, both prosecution and defence counsel adopted their written addresses, and Idris reserved judgement until Dec. 2.
On Dec. 2, the judgement could not be delivered as the judge was not available.
The judgment was rescheduled for Dec. 5 (Thursday).
On Thursday, security personnel admitted into the courtroom, only lawyers fully robed and journalists with means of identification.
Idris came into the courtroom at 9.10 a.m. for the judgment.
NAN reports that the defendants were first charged on 107 counts, but thereafter re-arraigned on 112 counts.
On May 20, 2016, the first amended charge had 34 counts of N3.4 billion fraud, while on July 16, a second amended charge was filed.
The trial ended in October with parties in the suit filing written addresses on Oct. 22.
NAN reports that during proceedings on Nov. 12, 2018, Kalu was absent in court for the second time, having been absent on Nov. 5, 2018.
Although his counsel informed the court that he was away for medical treatment in Germany, the court revoked his bail and ordered that he must submit himself and his travel documents to the EFCC on arrival in Nigeria, or be arrested.
The EFCC had said that the convicts committed the offences from August 2001 to October 2005.
It said that Kalu utilised his company to retain in the First Inland Bank, now FCMB, the sum of N200 million which formed part of funds illegally derived from the coffers of the Abia Government.
The commission said that Slok Nig. Ltd. and one Emeka Abone, still at large, retained in the company’s account, the sum of N200 million, on behalf of Kalu.
In counts one to 10, the EFCC said that the convicts retained about N2.5 billion belonging to the Abia Government, in different accounts.
The offences contravene the provisions of Sections 15(6), 16, and 21 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2005.
They also contravene Section 477 of the Criminal Code, 1990.
Kalu was born in April 21, 1960. He is the Chairman of Slok Nig. Ltd. and Daily Sun and New Telegraph newspapers.
He served as the Governor of Abia from May 29, 1999, to May 29, 2007.
Prior to his election as governor, he served as the Chairman of the Borno Water Board and the Chairman of the Cooperative and Commerce Bank Ltd.
Kalu was also a member of the Peoples Democratic Party, Progressives Peoples Alliance (PPA) and the Chairman of the PPA Board of Trustees.
He was the party’s presidential candidate in the April 2007 election.
He is currently a senator on the platform of the All Progressives Congress.
Kalu attended Christ the King School Aba and Government College, Umuhia.
After studying at the Barewa College, Zaria, Kaduna, he enrolled in the University of Maiduguri, where he studied political science.
NAN reports that ex-Gov. Jolly Nyame of Taraba was convicted by a high court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, to serve a jail term of 14 years for diverting N1.64 billion.
Ex-Gov. Joshua Dariye of Plateau was also convicted to serve a jail term of 14 years for misappropriating N1.16 billion ecological funds while he governed the state from 1999-2007.
A former governor of Adamawa, James Bala Ngilari, was sentenced to five years’ jail term without an option of fine for defrauding his state of N167 million.
Former Gov. Lucky Igbinedion of Edo was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment for laundering N25 billion, but he got a plea bargain that made him pay a fine of N3.5 million.
Ex-Gov. James Ibori of Delta was sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment by a London court for laundering $250 million.
. The late Gov. Diepreye Alamieyesegha of Bayelsa got two years’ jail term based on a plea bargain after he was found guilty of money laundering.