By Taiye Agbaje
Abuja, June 5, 2023 A Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday, discharged and acquitted former Head of Service (HoS) of the Federation, Mr Stephen Oronsaye of N190 million fraud charge.
The case was filed against Oronsaye by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Justice Inyang Ekwo, in a judgment, held that the prosecution failed to provide enough evidence to warrant Oronsaye’s conviction.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that Mr Oronsaye was arraigned alongside Osarenkhoe Afe (2nd defendant), Managing Director of Fedrick Hamilton Global Services Limited (3rd defendant), on a 49-count charge.
But the charges were later amended and reduced to 22 counts after the anti-graft commission separated the parts involving a former head of the Presidential Pension Task Force, Abdulrasheed Maina, who was then at large.
Maina was later charged separately by the EFCC and was subsequently convicted and sentenced to eight years imprisonment in November 2021.
Three companies — Cluster Logistic Limited (4th defendant), Kangolo Dynamic Cleaning Limited (5th defendant), and Drew Investment & Construction Company Limited (6th defendant) were also joined in the charge preferred against Oronsaye by the EFCC.
The EFCC alleged that the defendants had, between 2010 and 2011, used the firms to divert public funds through procurement fraud.
The EFCC equally accused Orosanye and the others of using inflated biometrics enrolment contracts, collective allowances and other schemes to siphon money from accounts containing pensioners’ funds.
The commission also tendered a report of the Auditor-General of the Federation on the Federal Government’s pension accounts which indicted Oronsaye and others of wrongdoing.
Delivering the judgment, Justice Ekwo held that he observed that the PW18 tendered Exhibits PW18 – C and PW18 – C1 (which were extra-judicial statements of one Robert Ikazabor, the alleged proprietor of Innovative Solutions which was in the epicentre of the case.
He said that the maker of the extra-judicial statements was not brought as a witness during the trial.
“It is pertinent to say that Exhs. P4718 ~ C and PW18 – Ci have no evidential value without the oral testimony of the maker of those statements.
“The defendants in this case were denied the opportunity to cross-examine the maker of Exhs PW18 — C and PW18 – C1,” he said.
He said that it was the presence of oral evidence that strengthened documentary evidence, hence, Exhibits PW18 — C and PW18 – Ci were bereft of evidential value and the court would not ascribe any to them.
The judge also held that the prosecution by the evidence of PW18 and PW2O only went after Oronsaye (1st defendant) and perhaps Afe (2nd defendant).
According to him, the manner of investigation confirms the evidence of the 1st defendant as DW1 when he sad his ordeal with the EFCC started when he supported the Executive Bill for the creation of an Independent Nigerian Financial Intelligence Unit outside the EFCC which was presented to the National Assembly in 2013, which Bil the EFCC opposed.
“It was after the Bill was passed and assented that he (Oronsaye) received invitation from the EFCC that there was a petition on pension fraud against him.
“He also told this Court that as at the time of this proceeding, no such petition was shown to him for him to respond,” Ekwo said.
He said where allegation against a person was predicated on a petition, “it is the constitutional right of the person to be availed of such petition for him to respond.
“Failure to do so breaches the constitutional right of the person to fair hearing and has the effect of annulling the proceeding based on such petition,” he said.
The judge held that the evidence of Oronsaye, as 1st defence witness (DW1) could be interpreted to mean that the entire investigation and the subsequent arraignment was a witch-hunt and malicious prosecution.
“The prosecution needed to controvert this evidence but failed to do so. Failure to controvert the evidence of DW1 in this respect makes the evidence credible and this Court will rely on it in taking a final decision,” he said
He, therefore, said he found that from the prosecution evidence of PW1, PW2, PW4, PW5, PW6, PW7, PW8, PW9, PW10, PW11, PW1i2, PW13, PW14, PW15, PW15, PW16, PW18, PW19, PW20 and PW21, no credible evidence had been adduced by the EFCC linking Oronsaye with the offences alleged against him in counts 1, 2, 4,5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 20, 22, 24, 25, 26, 31, 32, 34, and 42 of the charge sheet.
“I make an order discharging and acquitting him,” the judge ruled.
He said on the case against Afe, the 2nd defendant, Ekwo recalled that the court on October 6, 2020, made an order after trial-within-trial rejecting the extra-statements he purportedly made on February 24, 2011 and March 16, 2011 on the grounds that they were not obtained voluntarily.
He said in Afe’s evidence as DW2 which the EFCC did not controvert, that the operatives of the commission Invaded his house on February 24, 2011.
And that his properties, files and documents were carted away by the EFCC and he was also arrested on that day and had not seen those properties, files and focuments since then.
The judge said Section 36 (6) (b) of the 1999 Constitution (as amended) provided that every person who is charged with a criminal offence shall be entitled to be given time and adequate facilities for the preparation of his defence.
“I am of the opinion that by taking away the properties, files and documents by the EFCC and not returning the files and documents to the 2nd defendant to use them during this proceeding denied the 2nd defendant of adequate facility for his defence in this case.
“It is a breach of his constitutional right. It appears to me that the prosecution by the manner it has dealt with the 2nd defendant has aimed to obtain his conviction by all means.
“A criminal proceeding In breach of a defendant’s constitutional right is liable to be set aside and I so hold,” he said.
Justice Ekwo consequently made an order setting aside the proceeding against Afe.
“The 2nd defendant Is hereby discharged and acquitted,” he said.
On the case against the 3rd defendant (Fedrick Hamilton Global Services Limited), the judge said he found that It had been incriminated by the evidence of PW17 of the Inflow into the account of the company part of which the sum of N40,000,000.00 was withdrawn by cash by Abdulrasheed Abdullahi Maina.
“This evidence was not rebutted. The case against the 3rd defendant with respect to counts 22 and 24 have been proved by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt and I so hold.
“I therefore, find the 3rd defendant guilty as charged,” he declared.
On the case against the 6th defendant (DREW INVESTMENT AND CONSTRUCTION COMPANY LIMITED), a company owned by Abdulrasheed Abdullahi Maina, “I find that it has been incriminated by the evidence of PW6, PW7, PW18, and PW20.
“The case against the 6th defendant with respect to count 48 has been proved by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt and I so hold.
“I therefore, find the 6th defendant guilty as charged.
“This is the judgment of this Court
By Taiye Agbaje