By Ameh Ejekwonyilo
An Abuja High Court sitting at Gudu, presided by Justice Adebukola Banjoko, has convicted five Directors of the Rural Electricity Agency (REA) for their involvement in a contract scam leading to the award of a N5.2bn rural electrification project.
Those convicted are former Directors of Rural Electricity Agency, namely Engr. Samuel Ibi Gekpe, former Managing Director; Simon Kirdi Nanle, an accountant in REA; Engr. Kayode Orekoya, Director of Projects; Abdusamad Garba Hahun, Assistant Director and Kayode Oyedeji, Head of Legal Department.
Also, the court absolved a former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Power, Dr. Abdullahi Aliyu of any wrongdoing in the said N5.2bn allegation levelled against him and the directors.
The defendants were found guilty of all 65 count charge preferred against them by the EFCC.
Aliyu and the five Directors were prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission over an allegation that they defrauded the Federal Government of a whooping N2.5bn.
Specifically, the defendants were charged to court for criminal breach of trust, which they perpetrated by awarding contract for Grid Extension and Solar Electricity from the amended 2008 Budget of REA.
The court had upheld the “no-case” submission lodged by Dr. Abdullahi Aliyu on appeal and he was subsequently discharged and acquitted.
In a judgementI on Friday, Justice Banjoko dismissed the application of Gekpe, the first defendant, which had challenged the jurisdiction of the court to hear the charge.
On the substantive charge, the court noted that the prosecution had established by way of evidence, all ingredients of the offences levelled against the defendants.
The judge held that the matter was a clear manifestation of dishonesty as the contract awards were well crafted to boycott laid down process.
But Justice Banjoko noted that the Federal Government did not incur any loss and the prosecution could not prove that the defendants diverted funds meant for rural electrification project to their personal use.
Accordingly, the defendants were convicted and sentenced.
The 1st defendant was sentenced to three years imprisonment with an option of N5 million fine payable within one month, while the 3rd- 6th defendants were sentenced to three years imprisonment with an option of N500,000 fine each.
It would be recalled that the Permanent Secretary and the Directors were accused of fraudulently facilitating the withdrawal of the sum of N119.7million from the account of the REA, domicile in Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN.
In the course of the trial, the prosecution team led by Kemi Pinheiro, SAN, called seven witnesses before closing its case.
Rather than open its defence, the defendants through their counsel, Paul Erokoro, SAN, made a no-case-submission which was dismissed by the court.
Consequently, they were called upon to open their defences.
The 1st and 3rd defendants rested their cases on that of the prosecution whereas the 4th-6th defendants testified in court personally.