The Federal High Court in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, on Thursday convicted and sentenced a former Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Finance, Bassey Albert, to 42 years in prison for corruption.
Mr Albert, who is the governorship candidate of the Young Progressives Party (YPP) for the 2023 election, was prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. After the ruling, he was taken to Ikot Ekpene prisons to serve his term.
Mr Albert is also the serving senator representing Akwa Ibom North East District. He was accused of receiving bribes of 12 cars worth N254 million from an oil marketer, Olajidee Omokore, during his (Albert’s) tenure (2010 – 2014) as commissioner for finance in Akwa Ibom State. He served in the administration of Governor Godswill Akpabio.
The court also ordered Mr Albert to repay N204 million to the state as a condition for his release after serving out the jail term.
Judge Agatha Okeke convicted Mr Albert on all the six-count charges against him and sentenced him to seven years in prison for each charge, totalling 42 years. The terms will run concurrently, meaning Mr Albert will serve seven years behind bars.
Prosecutors said Mr Albert, a once powerful and promising politician in the oil rich state, received bribes from Mr Omokore, a contractor who executed a N3 billion contract for the Akwa Ibom government whilst Mr Albert served as finance commissioner and Chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Direct Labour Coordinating Committee.
The offence, according to EFCC, contravenes Section 15 (2) (d) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2011 (as amended) and is punishable under Section 15 (3) of the same Act.
One of the charges preferred against the convicted senator said that he received a vehicle (Infinity QX 56 BP) valued at N45 million from Mr Omokore in December 2012.
According to the EFCC, Mr Omokore’s companies had contracts with the Akwa Ibom government at that time and that the vehicle formed part of proceeds of corruption.
Mr Albert, the anti-graft agency, pleaded not guilty to the charges when he was arraigned. However, EFCC witnesses tendered documents which the court admitted as exhibits.
FOLLOWING THE MONEY
One of the witnesses, Ngunan Kakwagh, an investigator with the EFCC, revealed how Mr Omokore, a contractor, bought vehicles for Mr Albert after receiving the N3 billion contract.
The commission said Mr Kakwagh informed the court that the anti-graft agency traced about N3 billion payments from the Akwa Ibom State Government and the Inter-Ministerial Direct Labour Coordinating Committee, to the accounts of Canwod Dredging Company Limited, Bay Atlantic Limited, Sahel Engineering, Power Nigeria Limited and Network Services Nigeria Limited – all linked to Mr Omokore.
“My team further traced money from Omokore’s company account to the account of Skymit Limited, and when we invited Skymit to tell us the reasons for the money, we were told that it was for the purchase of vehicles,” the witness said.
“So, my investigation revealed that the accused, while he was the Commissioner for Finance and Chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Direct Labour Coordinating Committee, Mr Omokore and his companies received monies from the Akwa Ibom State Government and the IMDLCC.
“Also, Omokore bought cars from Skymit Limited for the accused,” the witness said.
The anti-graft agency listed the vehicles bought for the convicted senator to include, “Infinity QX 56 BP, valued at N45 million; Toyota Land Cruiser V8 BP, valued at N40 million; Range Rover, valued at N40 million; Toyota Hiace, High Roof, valued at N27 million; Toyota Hiace High Roof, valued at N16 million and Toyota Hilux 4×4, valued at N36 million.
According to EFCC, the court on 5 May 2022 closed the case of the defence following the failure of the lead defence counsel, Kanu Agabi, to continue with the trial.
Justice Okeke in her judgement agreed with all the positions canvassed by the prosecution and convicted Mr Albert on all the six-count charge preferred against him.
Mr Albert, who is currently serving a second term in the Senate, is the chairman, Senate Committee on Petroleum, Upstream.
The convicted senator was a member of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), the ruling party in the state before defecting months ago to the YPP, where he picked the party’s ticket for the 2023 governorship.
He was a major challenger to the PDP candidate, Umo Eno, in next year’s governorship election in the state.
Mr Albert conviction and subsequent sentencing has been received with mixed feelings particularly among his supporters and members of the PDP in the state.
Reacting to the court judgment sentencing its principal to 42 years in prison, the chairman of YPP governorship campaign council, Emem Akpabio described the judgment as “judiciary absurdity” and “travesty of justice.”
Mr Akpabio urged supporters of the candidate to remain calm that the party will appeal the judgment and ensure the freedom of Mr Albert, whom he claimed was innocent.
The convicted senator enjoys widespread grassroots support. Some of them have taken to social media to show solidarity with the jailed senator.
“Some may see this as defeat, but I see victory. Congratulations to the incoming governor of Akwa Ibom State,” Godson Uwah posted on Facebook.
Kenneth Jude, a journalist and Mr Albert supporter said the YPP candidate described the conviction as “bitter politics,” adding that the conviction would not have happened if Mr Albert had chickened out for the “anointed man,” referring to Umo Eno, the governorship candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) who is the preferred candidate of the state governor, Udom Emmanuel.
“To intimidate everybody, anything in sight just so the coast clears for the hotelier to grab without a fight isn’t democracy,” Mr Jude posted on Facebook, referring to Mr Eno who owned Royalty Hotels.
“As human I feel bad and grieve over the judgment pronounced by the judge. Most especially prosecuting a man I loved wholeheartedly and the fact he is facing this just became (sic) he stepped up to lead constitutionally,” Comedian Sir James, another supporter of the jailed governorship candidate posted on Facebook.
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