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February 16, 2024

Alleged false declaration of asset: S’Court voids Orubebe’s conviction

Alleged false declaration of asset: S’Court voids Orubebe’s conviction

… dismisses FG’s appeal to confiscate his Abuja property

By Ikechukwu Nnochiri, ABUJA

The Supreme Court, on Friday, upheld the nullification of the Code of Conduct Tribunal, CCT, judgement that convicted a former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsday Orubebe, over an allegation that he falsely declared his assets in 2007.

The apex court, in a unanimous decision by a five-member panel of justices, dismissed an appeal the Federal Government filed to set aside the Court of Appeal judgement that discharged and acquitted the erstwhile Minister of the alleged offence.

In the lead judgement that was prepared by Justice Garba Mohammed, but read on Friday by Justice Emmanuel Agim, the Supreme Court held that FG’s appeal against Orubebe was incompetent.

The panel held that FG acted in breach of its rules when it failed to obtain permission before it lodged the appeal on “mixed law and facts.”

It will be recalled that the Abuja Division of the Court of Appeal had on June 14, 2017, nullified Orubebe’s conviction.

In a unanimous decision, the appellate court panel, led by Justice Mohammed Abdul Aboki, voided Orubebe’s conviction on the premise that the CCT verdict occasioned a miscarriage of justice against him.

The judgement followed an appeal the former minister lodged to challenge his trial and conviction.

Orubebe, in his Notice of Appeal marked CA/A/633c/2016, urged the appellate court to not only set aside the judgment that the Mr, Danladi Umar-led tribunal delivered against him on October 4, 2016, but to equally discharge and acquit him of the charge.

The CCT, in its verdict, said it was satisfied that Orubebe shielded his ownership of Plot 2057, Asokoro District, Abuja.

Chairman of the tribunal, Mr. Umar, who maintained that there was merit in the one-count amended charge that FG entered against the former Minister, held that the said property should be forfeited to the government.

The tribunal noted that though Orubebe claimed that he had already sold the land before he submitted his asset declaration form to the Code of Conduct Bureau, CCB, the title documents bore his name six years after.

Even though the tribunal confiscated the land from the defendant after it found him guilty of the offence of false declaration of assets contrary to Section 15 of the CCB & Tribunal Act, Cap C15, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria 2007, it declined to ban him from holding any public office.

Dissatisfied with the verdict, Orubebe approached the appellate court to nullify it.

He prayed the court to determine “whether the tribunal was right in convicting the defendant for false declaration of plot 2057, Asokoro District, Abuja.

“Whether the tribunal was right in holding that the said plot 2057 remained or remains the defendant’s property despite exhibits D1, D2, and D3 being documentary evidence of transfer of interest executed in favour of one Divention Properties Ltd. by the defendant.

As well as, “Whether the tribunal was right in suo motu raising the issue of non-registration of Divention Properties Ltd’s title in respect of plot 2057 Asokoro District, Abuja, and convicting the defendant thereon without granting party opportunity to be heard thereon.”.

He argued that the prosecution woefully failed to prove that he falsely declared his assets.

According to him, “The said plot said not to be declared in the charge on September 26, 2007 was not yet given to the appellant as at then. 

“The appellant did not make any declaration of assets on June 29, 2011 as alleged on the charge. He only made a declaration on June 28, 2011, by which time he was no longer the owner of plot 2057. The plot 2057 Asokoro District, Abuja, was a gift of empty land by the respondent (FRN) which he received on June 13, 2011 and parted with the same day.  

“Having sold the said plot and executed D1, D2 and D3, he could not be reasonably expected to still declare it as his assets.

“That the tribunal based its decision on an issue that was not put before it, but raised suo motu by it without giving parties opportunity to be heard, thereby rendering it a nullity.

“Accordingly, that the decision of the tribunal be set aside, the conviction quashed, and the appellant be discharged and acquitted.”

While upholding the appeal, the court held that the tribunal went beyond the case that was brought before it by the prosecution.

The court held that Orubebe’s trial was not based on his non-declaration of title deed of the said property, but his alleged false declaration of his assets.

It stressed that, as such, the unregistered instrument of transfer of the said property was admissible evidence in proof of the payment of purchase price, which showed that the property was already acquired by Divention Properties Ltd.

The appellate court stressed that Orubebe could not have declared the same property he had parted with.

The court faulted the CCT for raising the issue of non-registration of title deed of the property suo motu (by itself).

“On the whole, it is our view that this appeal succeeded on its merit and is therefore allowed. The appellant is accordingly discharged and  acquitted,” the court held.