By Ochada Ajogwu Jerry
The Nigerian information space exploded on Thursday, December 4, 2019, when news broke that the Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has convicted a former governor of Abia State and Senator representing Abia North in the Senate, Senator Orji Kalu, of N7.1bn fraud and sentenced him to 12 years imprisonment.
Senator Kalu was convicted alongside his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited and his
Director of Finance and Account at the Abia State Government House, Mr. Jones Udeogu who served under him when he was Abia state governor.
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 the government.
The judgment, delivered by Justice Mohammed Idris, shocked and stunned the whole nation, not only because the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission EFCC had been on this case for 12 years after it first filed the fraud charges against Kalu in 2007, but also for the fact that the former Abia state governor had been widely regarded as a sacred cow and one of the most trusted ally and confidant of President Buhari; a claim he seemingly invoked and exploited to maximum effect when INEC was compelled by the courts to issue him with a certificate of return as Abia North Senator and most recently when the Supreme Court validated his victory and dismissed all the petitions challenging his election victory.
Not many people believed that a court of law in Nigeria would be bold enough to convict a man whose relationship with President Mohammadu Buhari, was such that he even took a well-celebrated chieftaincy title from Katsina, the President’s state and his ride to the Senate became so smooth once he joined APC, the ruling Party, thus lending more credence to the narrative that your sins will be forgiven once you joined APC.
In any case, with this dramatic conviction of Senator Orji Uzor Kalu, it appears that many people have grossly underestimated the unflinching tenacity and crusade like the commitment of the EFCC boss, Ibrahim Magu to the anti-corruption war. This conviction, coming at this very auspicious time in the evolution of the anti-corruption war, has more than consolidated the argument that Ibrahim Magu ought to be confirmed and retained as the substantive head of the EFCC.
It also sends a reassuring signal to the international community that Nigeria is quite serious about tackling corruption frontally, with a dedicated and courageous man in charge, but most importantly it delivers a clear and direct warning to all those under EFCC investigation for various fraud-related allegations, but enjoying some form of official authority and responsibility, that the EFCC under Magu, is not going to dilly dally over fraud and corruption cases anymore and sooner than later, a proper and complete closure will be brought to many of the very outstanding and astounding cases.
Indeed, one of the most satisfying aspects of the judgment and conviction of Senator Orji Kalu was the commendation given to the EFCC by the Judge. In pronouncing the convicts guilty, Justice Idris had only glowing praise for the EFCC, stating unequivocally that the Commission proved its case beyond a reasonable doubt.
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.
The judge, who hailed the investigation that culminated into the charge as in-depth and conclusive, said: “No gaps were left unfilled. This is the acceptable standard. 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 offenses. 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.”
The import of this very succinct observation by the learned Justice Idris is a clear affirmation of the giant strides the EFCC under Ibrahim Magu has accomplished. Gone are the days when the Commission was often embarrassed by sitting judges and had to hurriedly withdraw promising cases from the court as a result of shoddy and haphazardly construed investigations in their eagerness to secure glory-seeking convictions. Under Magu’s unerring watch, the EFCC has transformed into a meticulous, clinical, dogged and tenacious investigative machine, with the ultimate objective of ensuring that any charge that is eventually tabled before the courts would have been thoroughly investigated and prepared with the utmost care and intention to secure a conviction at the end of trial.
It is also worth stating here that the conviction of Senator Orji Uzor Kalu is quite significant as it falls in line with the EFCC’s determination to bring as many
Politically Exposed Persons, PEPs to book; a drive which had already convicted Jolly Nyame, a former governor of Taraba State and Joshua Dariye, a serving Senator and a former governor of Plateau state both of whom are currently serving jail terms at Kuje Prison.
Dariye and Nyame, who were sentenced to 14 years in prison had approached the Court of Appeal to challenge the ‘guilty’ verdict handed down on them by a Federal Capital Territory High Court, Gudu presided over by Justice Adebukola Banjoko. However, while upholding their convictions, the Appellate Court commuted Dariye’s jail term to 10 years and that of Nyame to 12 years with a fine of N495 million.
It is highly anticipated that Senator Orji Uzor Kalu may also approach the court if Appeal to try and overturn his own conviction too. Indeed, a legal practitioner ostensibly speaking on behalf of the Abia North Senator has already boasted that the judgment will be appealed from the Appeal Court up to the Supreme Court, even insisting that there was no cause for alarm.
However, without prejudice to whatever transpires henceforth legally, the point remains that with this conviction of Senator Orji Kalu, the EFCC, led by Ibrahim Magu as the acting Chairman, has proven once more that the Commission remains consistent in its concerted efforts towards ensuring that the negative narrative of pervasive corruption in the Nigerian system is changed for the better, and the perception that some persons are sacred cows who are above the Law, is altered.
There is no doubt that in the last four years, the political will of President Muhammadu Buhari has emboldened and energized the EFCC to embark on enforcement and preventive measures against corruption with a view to tame the monster and with the preventive, enforcement and prosecution mandate given to the Commission, all that is needed is the combination of courage, integrity, and determination which has been proved beyond reasonable doubt are all embodied in Magu and which will be intensified with the confirmation of a substantive authority to drive the anti-corruption war to new, successful heights.
Indeed, like Ibrahim Magu himself said, the battle to make the country a place where foreign investors would be confident to invest in is, without doubt, ”one that must be fought by all Nigerians”.