Justice Muhammed Idris on Thursday sentenced a former Abia State governor, Orji Kalu, to 12 years in prison for stealing public funds while in office.
Mr Kalu, a serving senator, was jailed alongside Udeh Udeogu, his Director of Finance and Accounts at the Abia State Government House during Mr Kalu’s tenure. Mr Udeogu was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
A third defendant, Mr Kalu’s company, Slok Nigeria Limited, was ordered to be wound up and its assets forfeited to the Nigerian government.
Mr Kalu’s prosecution started 12 years ago, in 2007 after he left office as governor.
The defendants were eventually faced with an amended 39-count charge for conspiring and diverting N7.65 billion from the coffers of the state.
The defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against them by the EFCC, thereby leading to their full trial.
Delivering his judgment today, Justice Idris found the defendants guilty on all counts.
Mr Idris held that the prosecution had established its case against the defendants.
The judge further held that “the case was conclusively investigated, as the prosecution conducted thorough investigations.
“No gaps were left unfilled; this is the acceptable practice.
“The first defendant failed in his obligations under the law.
“He acted contrary to his codes of conduct and will be dealt with accordingly.
“No evil deed will go unpunished.
“The offences are anti-human; it is condemned worldwide because it is a crime against humanity.”
Mr Kalu was convicted on 28 out of the 39 counts he was charged. On each of counts 1-11 and 39, he was sentenced to five years in prison; on each of counts 23-33, he was sentenced to three years; and on each of counts 34-38, he was sentenced to 12 years.
According to the judge, the sentences would run concurrently, meaning that Mr Kalu will spend 12 years in prison.
The judge said the EFCC proved its case beyond reasonable doubt.
“I, sincerely, cannot find my way clear in finding these defendants not guilty of the offences charged,” he said.
“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 offences.
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.
“In totality, I, sincerely, cannot find my way clear in finding these defendants not guilty of the offences charged.
“Having reviewed all that has been provided by the prosecution in terms of oral and documentary evidence, I am inclined to resolve the singular issue for determination in favour of the prosecution herein.”
The judge said from the evidence before him, Mr Kalu violated his oath of office as governor.
“With due respect, I hold the view that the first defendant has failed in his obligation; it is unacceptable,” Mr Idris said.
“With due respect, I state that the first defendant acted contrary to his oath of office and he shall accordingly be held responsible for his actions. All of those who have aided and abetted him will also be dealt with.
“Let me remind those who hold positions of authority in this country that they shall be held responsible for their conducts. When they act contrary to the law, the same law will catch up with them. I will like to borrow a leaf from the words of the late Dele Giwa, who stated that, ‘No evil deed will go unpunished; any evil done by man to man will be redressed, if not now, certainly later. If not by man, then by God, for the victory of evil over good is temporary’.
“It is in this light and circumstances that I again find the defendants guilty.”
The judge described money laundering as “a grave offence and crime against humanity.”
“Money laundering offences are anti-human and among the most dangerous. It is condemned worldwide because it is a crime against humanity.
“The defendants are, no doubt, first-time offenders and for this reason and keeping with the spirit of the ACJA, the court will temper justice with mercy but only in accordance with the dictates of the law.”
For Mr Udeogu, Justice Idris found him guilty of 11 out of the 16 counts in which his name featured. On each of counts 23-25 and 27-32, Mr Udeogu was sentenced to three years in prison; on each of counts 34-38, he was sentenced to 10 years; while count 39 got him five years.
The sentences would also run concurrently, meaning that Mr Udeogu will spend 10 years in jail.
In respect of Slok Nigeria Limited, Justice Idris pronounced, “An order is hereby made that the third convict shall without further assurances but from this order be wound up and all the assets and properties forfeited.”
In his statement to the court before sentencing, the counsel to Mr Kalu said his client “is a first-time offender and has no criminal record.
“He has thousands of employees depending on him for survival.
“He also has health issues.
“We, therefore, want the court to take this into consideration in giving out the sentence.”
Counsel to the second convict also asked the court to temper justice with mercy, saying his client “has no criminal record.”
“He was a public servant who diligently served Abia State.
“He acted in the moment of indiscretion and this should not be the only basis to adjudge his career.”
In his response, the prosecution counsel, Mr Jacobs, said: “Though there is no record to show any criminal records involving the defendants, the court has sent a message to the world not to allow their personal interests to conflict with the interests of Nigerians, because no matter how long it takes, they will not escape the wrath of the law.
“This case started in 2007 and the convicts filed series of applications to stall this case.
“For 12 years, the people of Abia have waited for this day and it is here, when they can reclaim all that was taken from them.”
Mr Jacobs also urged the court to wind up the company as provided by the Law and all its assets forfeited to the federal government.
Justice Idris further held that Mr Kalu’s company, Slok Nigeria Limited, the third defendant, be wounded up and all assets forfeited to the federal government.
The defendants were taken to prison from the court. They will remain in prison unless they appeal the judgement and win at the appeal or supreme court.