The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal on Friday cleared a former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Patrick Akpobolokemi of allegations of diverting N2.6bn from the coffers of the agency between December 2013, and May 2015.
The appellate court discharged and acquitted Akpobolokemi, while delivering judgment on an appeal he filed to challenge the dismissal of his no case submission by the trial Judge, Justice Ibrahim Buba of the Federal High Court in Lagos.
Justice Yargatta Nimpar, who delivered the lead judgment, upheld the no-case submission, holding that it is meritorious.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had arraigned Akpobolokemi and his co-accused: Ezekiel Agaba, Ekene Nwakuche, Governor Juan, Blockz and Stonz Limited and Al-Kenzo Logistic Limited on December 4, 2015.
According to the commission, the money was approved by ex-President Goodluck Jonathan for the implementation of a security project, tagged, “International Ship and Ports Security Code in Nigeria Ports.”
They all pleaded not guiltyto the charge.
However after the prosecution closed its case, the former NIMASA boss and his co-accused rather than open their defence, filed a no-case submissions, arguing that the prosecution failed to establish a prima facie case against them to warrant entering any defence.
In the no -case submission filed by Akpobolokemi through his lawyer, Dr. Joseph Nwobike (SAN), argued that the EFCC failed to link their clients with the alleged diversion of funds from NIMASA.
Specifically Nwobike said that his client could not be liable because ex-President Jonathan, and not Akpobolokemi, approved the security project and the money disbursed.
But in opposition to the application, the EFCC counsel, Rotimi Oyedepo, insisted that the testimonies of the 12 witnesses called by the commission and the 77 exhibits tendered had successfully linked Akpobolokemi and others to the alleged fraud.
Oyedepo also maintained that Akpobolokemi being the head and chief accounting officer of NIMASA at the time of the alleged fraud, so he could not by any stretch of imagination, claim to be innocent.
He said even though it was ex-President Jonathan who approved the security project and sanctioned the disbursment of the funds, Akpobolokemi was the head of NIMASA who constituted a committee to handle the project and also approved funds for the activities of the committee.
But Justice Buba, in an October 16, 2017 ruling, dismissed their no-case submissions, holding that they had a case to answer.
Justice Buba had held that, “From the evidence of the first prosecution witness, it is well established that all the defendants have case to answer; the exhibits tendered and the testimonies of other witnesses have established that there is a prima facie case against the defendants.”
Displeased, however, they all went on appeal and in a judgment on Friday, the Court of Appeal discharged an acquitted Akpobolokemi of the entire 22 counts.
However, the five other defendants were not discharged as the appellate court upheld Justice Buba’s verdict that they had a case to answer.
Among other things, the EFCC alleged that the defendants, “induced the Federal Government to approve and deliver to NIMASA the sum of N795,200,000 under the false pretence that the sum represented the cost for the implementation of the International Ship and Ports Security Code in Nigeria Ports.”
This alleged offence is said to contravene Section 8 (a) of the Advanced Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act, 2006 and punishable under Section 1 (3) of the Act.
In another count, the EFCC claimed that the accused persons conspired among themselves to convert and indeed converted N437.7m between December 23, 2013 and March 13, 2014 in Lagos.
They were also accused of converting another N525,000,000 on November 6, 2014; as well N402,480,000 between February 5, 2014 and March 13, 2014.
The prosecution alleged that the defendants violated Section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act 2012 and were liable to punishment under Section 15 (3) of the same Act.
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