A former National Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Vincent Ogbulafor, was on Thursday discharged and acquitted of a 17-count charge of corruption by an Abuja High Court
However, Emeka Ebila, a former Secretary of the National Economic Intelligence Committee, NEIC, who was accused alongside Mr. Ogbulafor, was convicted and sentenced to five years imprisonment without an option of fine.
He was found guilty of all the charges brought against him.
The court had on Tuesday issued a bench warrant for Mr. Ebila’s arrest for refusing to appear before it. However, the accused appeared in court on Thursday on a wheel chair, an indication that he was not well.
The Independent Corrupt Practices and Related Offences Commission, ICPC, had arraigned Messrs. Ogbulafor and Ebila on May 10, 2010 before the court over allegation of conspiring with others to float three fictitious companies which they used for fraudulent activities.
They were accused of using Henrichiko Nigeria Limited, DHL Consultants and Chekwas Industries to fraudulently obtain N82.6 million, N11.5 million and N6.2 million in 2001.
Mr. Ogbulafor was specifically accused of using his position as the head of the National Economic Intelligence Committee, set up to verify debts owed local contractors, to okay as genuine, several forged documents.
The former PDP chairman was accused of relying on forged documents to certify that the three fake companies successfully executed jobs worth N104 million. He was also alleged to have collected N2 million and N28 million kickbacks from Mr. Ebilah.
The offences contravened Section 19 of the Corrupt Practices and other Related Offences Act, 2000.
Mr. Ogbulafor, who was serving as Minister of Special Duties at the time the offence was committed, was however believed to be facing political persecution.
He had reportedly said a northerner should replace the late President Umaru Yar’Adua. As chairman, he had led the National Working Committee, NWC, of the ruling party to suspend members of the 19 chieftains of the Reformation Group in the ruling party, for anti-party activities.
The suspended members, which included two former Senate President, Adolphus Wabara and Ken Nnamani as well as a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Masari were believed to be working for Mr. Jonathan to get the NWC and PDP governors to change their earlier position barring the then acting president from contesting for president in the 2011 election.
Justice Ishaq Bello, while delivering judgement on the suit said the linking of Mr. Ogbulafor, who ministry was supervising NEIC, to the matter was not wrong.
According to him, going by Mr. Ebila’s confession, it was evident that he did not conspire with the former PDP chairman.
He noted that the prosecution could not prove the ingredients of conspiracy.
“It is clear from the evidence that the first accused person was not given any money, even the second accused in his evidence stated that he did not give the first accused any money,” Mr. Bello said.
“Prosecution did not tender any bank account showing lodgement of any money to the benefit of the first accused. The only money given by the second accused person to the first accused person was N2 million and that was after the first accused had left office as a public servant.
“From the evidence, the second accused person is the mastermind of all the allegations on which this charge is predicated. I did not see any conspiracy as alleged by the prosecution on the first accused person.
“The prosecution has failed to prove his case beyond reasonable doubt against the first accused person, he is hereby discharged of all the charges. Whereas the second accused person is hereby found guilty of all the charges against him. He is therefore guilty as charged.”
Although, counsel to Mr. Ebila had asked the court to be lenient with his client because of his medical challenge, Mr. Bello noted that Section 19 of the ICPC Act under which the accused was charged did not give room for variation and hence, he was not ready to deviate from it.
He said, “The situation does not call for sympathy, I can only recommend maximum health care for the the convict by the authority of the prison.
“The convict is hereby sentenced to five years imprisonment without an option of fine. Other penalties connected will also be paid concurrently,”the judge held.