The judge said the prosecution could not establish a prima facie case against ex-Speaker
A Federal High Court in Abuja, Friday, discharged and acquitted a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, of contract inflation and fraudulent embezzlement of public funds totalling N874 million while in office.
The presiding judge, Evoh Chukwu, cleared the former Speaker of any complicity in a 16-count charge brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
The Commission had dragged Mr. Bankole to court for allegedly being involved in the purchase of two bullet-proof Range Rover vehicles, two non-bulletproof Range Rover, three Mercedes Benz S-Class 600 cars, 400 units of DSTV system, 400 television sets, 800 units of desktop computers, 100 units of Sharp Digital photographers, and 400 units of Laserjet 2600N.
It said the purchases contravened Section 17 to 56 of the Procurement Act No. 14 of 2007.
An Abuja High Court had previously acquitted the former Speaker of charges bordering on breach of trust and illegally obtaining loan of about N9 billion for the lower legislative chamber.
Relying on the testimonies given by six witnesses called by the prosecuting counsel, Mr. Chukwu said no error was committed in the process leading to the award of the said contracts to warrant the Speaker being asked to enter his defence in trial.
The judge said the prosecution, led by Festus Keyamo, failed to establish a prima facie case against Mr. Bankole to justify the demand that he should enter defence in the N874 million contract fraud against him.
Mr. Chukwu also said that the prosecution could not also prove that the former Speaker colluded with others to commit the crime as covered by counts 3, 6, 9, 12, 13 and 14 of the charge.
“From the totality of the testimonies of the six witnesses, nothing shows any act of collusion on the part of the accused person,” the judge said.
“Nothing shows that he interfered with the process of the award of the contracts. No mention about anybody fronting for him was made by the prosecution witnesses and the process was also said to have complied with the requirements.
“Based on the totality of these witnesses’ testimonies, I hold that there is nothing to justify his being called to enter his defence as none of the essential ingredients have been proved by the prosecution”
Mr. Chukwu noted that the court would be engaging in inquisitorial trial if it insisted that the accused must prove his innocence.
According to him, in line with Nigeria’s adversarial criminal procedure, the prosecution must prove its case against the accused.
“In the end, the no-case submission of the accused person succeeds. The accused is hereby discharged and acquitted,” the judge said.