A Lagos division of the federal high court on Tuesday returned a former director-general of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Calistus Obi, to prison.
Mojisola Olatoregun, the judge, ordered that Mr Obi stay in Ikoyi Prisons till June 3 when she would deliver sentencing in his case. The judge gave the order after lawyers of the defendant made various pleas for lenient sentencing for the accused.
Mrs Olatoregfun said the decision was to enable her to resolve all issues raised in the plea for leniency made by the defence counsel to the court.
“In line with Section 390, we would adjourn one more time. I will like to look at the issues raised. I would give a very short date. We would come back June 3rd just to read the sentencing,” she said while adjourning the matter.
Prosecuting counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, had prayed the court to apply the maximum sentence on the defendants. He said the court needed to send a strong signal to public officials who are thinking of dipping their hands into public funds.
“My Lord, this is the time we must begin to send a strong signal to public servants and those entrusted with public funds not to breach the trust reposed on them as My Lord affirmed in this case.”
Mr Oyedepo also asked the court to, in addition to the punishment prescribed by the anti-money laundering Act, ”order the convicts to pay compensation to any victim of the crime” which he said would be NIMASA.
He also asked that the court make them refund monies lost to the federal government.
In his prayer, the counsel to the 1st, 3rd and 4th defendants, Mobolaji Kuti, said his clients were first-time offenders and, therefore, the court should not grant the prayers of the maximum sentence made by the prosecution.
“By virtue of section 416 subsection 2(d), a trial court shall not impose maximum sentencing on a first time offender.”
He also said that the first defendant, Mr Obi, was a family man who had various people as dependents and has also engaged in various public service, humanitarian and charity endeavours prior to his arraignment. He pleaded that these should, therefore, be considered by the court.
Mr Kuti asked the court to dismiss the prosecution’s prayer asking the court to mandate the convicts to pay further fines, stating that the provisions were optional and not mandatory.
“Section 321 of the ACJA referred to buy my learned colleague, it is not mandatory. The section provides that after conviction, the court may impose further fine on the defendants. I want the court to consider that the supposed victim has never complained.”
The counsel to the 2nd defendant Collins Ogbonna, prayed the court to grant his client a non-custodian sentence instead.
According to Mr. Ogbonna, ”the whole gamut of sentencing is at the discretion of the court as stated by section 416 subsection 2 of the ACJA 2015 and how such discretion will be exercised from paragraph A-K.
“Two things stand out regarding the 2nd defendant. One, he is a junior staff and P.A to the ex-DG NIMASA, Patrick. Secondly, the prosecution through one of its witnesses, the IPO, testified that the monies, N111 million which he was convicted for converting, none of it came to the 2nd defendant. He was more of a conduit pipe for the monies.”
Mr Ogbonna also said the prosecution had not established that the 2nd defendant would constitute any form of nuisance or danger to the society. He urged the judge to instead give him non-custodial sentencing.
“Being just a conduit pipe, I urge My lordship to please give justice a human face. He has a wife and five kids, the last one is a year old. His wife is a full housewife and has no income and he also has an 84-year-old father whom he takes care of his financial and health needs at their home in Bayelsa.”
He also said section 453 of the ACJA provides for non-custodial sentencing and that section 454 provides for circumstances where such can apply which includes character, antecedents and health.
Mr Obi was charged by the EFCC on an eight-count charge alongside one Alu Dismas P.A to former DG NIMASA Patrick Akpobolokemi, Grand pact LTD and Global Seal Investment LTD.
On May 23, the court had found Mr Obi guilty of count five, six, seven and eight of the charges and found Mr Dismas guilty of count two and four of the charge.