Mixed reactions as court jails Orji Uzor Kalu 12 years
• Abia residents lament forfeiture of assets to FG
Reactions poured in yesterday in the wake of the 12-year jail term bagged by a former Abia State governor Orji Uzor Kalu for fraud. For the Buhari Media Organisation (BMO), the conviction was proof of President Muhammadu Buhari’s sincerity in fighting corruption, even as some residents in the state described the forfeiture of assets to the Federal Government as unfair.
In a statement signed by its Chairman Niyi Akinsiju and Secretary Cassidy Madueke, BMO said the conviction of a high ranking APC chieftain proves that the courts are independent in this dispensation.The statement reads in part: “For some time, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and its supporters had been casting aspersion on the anti-corruption crusade, especially in the run-up to the 2019 elections.
“The claim then was that all a politician seeking protection from trial needed to do was to join APC. And this was even after two former governors who are also members of the ruling party, had been convicted and sent to jail.“This speaks to the focus and uncompromising nature of the administration. If a high-ranking senator is in jail, then clearly a message has been sent out on the rule of law.
“So, if there was any doubt about President Muhammadu Buhari’s sincerity, then the fact that a ranking member of his party has been sentenced to a 12-year jail term is proof that such doubts had been unfounded.”But a chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Abia, Chief Okey Nwagbara, insisted he wants “the Federal Government to do justice by converting the property of Slok to Abia government, because the money he was accused of stealing belongs to the Abia State government.”
He nevertheless praised the judgment, saying it demonstrates the commitment of the Federal Government to fighting corruption. “It is a very straight-forward judgment against corruption. The judgment shows that the judiciary is independent and is actually the hope of the common man,” Nwagbara said.
Similarly, a lawyer and social critic based in Abia, Chief Ukpai Ukairo, told the News Agency of Nigeria: “The judgment is momentous and shows that you can run but cannot hide. The judgment shows that though the wheel of justice grinds slowly, it will surely grind very well. This is the time for Abia to recover money stolen by that regime and use it meaningfully. It is also a warning to all those in positions of authority that abuse the trust of the people.”
Twelve years after he exited office as a governor of Abia State, a Federal High Court, Lagos, yesterday convicted and sentenced Kalu to 12 years imprisonment over a N7.2 billion fraud.Justice Mohammed Idris convicted Kalu alongside his firm, Slok Nigeria Limited, and Jones Udeogu, who served under him as Director of Finance and Accounts at the Abia State Government House in Umuahia.
The convicts have vowed they would appeal the decision.While Udeogu was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment, the judge ordered the winding up of Slok Nigeria Limited, ordering that its assets be forfeited to government.Of the 39 counts filed against the trio, the judge convicted Kalu of the entire 28 counts where his name featured. On each of counts one to 11 and 39, he was sentenced to five years imprisonment; on each of counts 23-33, he was sentenced to three years imprisonment; and on each of counts 34-38, he was sentenced to 12 years imprisonment. He said the sentences would run concurrently, meaning that Kalu will spend 12 years in jail.
Idris also found Udeogu guilty of 11 out of the 16 counts where his name featured. He was pronounced not guilty on five counts. On each of counts 23-25 and 27-32, Udeogu was sentenced to three years imprisonment. On each of counts 34-38, he was sentenced to 10 years, while the judge gave him five years on count 39. He said the sentences would run concurrently, meaning that Udeogu will spend 10 years in jail.
In respect of Slok Nigeria Limited, Idris pronounced: “An order is hereby made that the third convict shall without further assurances but from this order be wound up and all the assets and properties forfeited to the Federal Government.”In pronouncing the convicts guilty, Idris said the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) proved its case beyond reasonable doubt, stating: “I sincerely cannot find my way clear in finding these defendants not guilty of the offences charged.”
The judge hailed the investigation leading to the charge as in-depth and conclusive, stressing: “No gaps were left unfilled. This is the acceptable standard.”He said: “I hold the view that the prosecution has established its case against the defendants. It did not fall short of the standard required by law in money laundering offences. It is clear upon the facts before this court that the prosecution had this case conclusively investigated before opting to bring this charge against the defendants.
“Having reviewed all that has been provided by the prosecution in terms of oral and documentary evidence, I am inclined to resolve the singular issue for determination in favour of the prosecution herein.”Idris said further: “Let me remind those who hold positions of authority in this country that they shall be held responsible for their conducts. When they act contrary to the law, the same law will catch up with them. I will like to borrow a leaf from the words of the late Dele Giwa, who stated that, ‘No evil deed will go unpunished. Any evil done by man to man will be redressed, if not now, certainly later; if not by man, then by God, for the victory of evil over good is temporary’. It is in this light and circumstances that I again find the defendants guilty.”
Kalu joins the list of governors who have been convicted on corruption charges. Former Taraba State governor, Jolly Nyame, was convicted by a high court of the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, and was sentenced to serve a 14-year jail term for diverting N1.64 billion.
A former Plateau State governor, Joshua Dariye, was also convicted of misappropriating N1.16 billion ecological funds between 1999 and 2007. He bagged a 14-year jail sentence.James Bala Ngilari, a former Adamawa State governor, was sentenced to five years in jail without an option of fine for defrauding his state of N167 million.
Lucky Igbinedion, former governor of Edo State, was sentenced to six months imprisonment for laundering N25 billion. He however had struck a plea bargain that made him pay a fine of N3.5 million.A former Delta State governor, James Ibori, got a 13-year jail sentence via a London court for laundering $250 million.The late Bayelsa State governor, Diepreye Alamieyesegha, got a two-year jail term based on a plea bargain after he was found guilty of money laundering.
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