The Federal High Court, Abuja, on Monday, discharged and acquitted a former Head of Service (HoS) of the Federation, Stephen Oronsaye, of N190 million pension fraud charges.
The judge similarly discharged and acquitted Mr Oronsaye’s co-defendant, Osarenkhoe Afe, the managing director of Fedrick Hamilton Global Services Limited.
But the court convicted Mr Afe’s firm – Fedrick Hamilton Global Services Limited – and another belonging to the convicted pension thief, Abduralsheed Maina -Drew Investment and Construction Company. The firms were said to have received proceeds of the crime.
The case was filed against the defendants by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in 2015.
EFCC alleged that the defendants, between 2010 and 2011, used the firms and diverted billions of naira in public funds through procurement projects purportedly aimed at reforming the federal civil service pension.
Messrs Oronsaye and Afe, Fedrick Hamilton Global Services Limited, Cluster Logistic Limited, Kangolo Dynamic Cleaning Limited, and Drew Investment & Construction Company Limited faced amended 22 charges.
The trial of Mr Oronsaye and his co-defendants started over six years ago, with his first arraignment in July 2015.
It had passed through two judges before it was reassigned to the third judge, Inyang Ekwo, who brought it to a close in January and initially fixed 5 April for judgement.
The judgement was subsequently adjourned until Monday.
Inyang Ekwo, in a judgment, held that the prosecution failed to provide enough evidence to warrant Mr 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 Taskforce Team, Abdulrasheed Maina, who was then at large.
Mr 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 Mr 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 accused Mr 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 Mr Oronsaye and others of wrongdoing.
Delivering the judgement, Mr Ekwo held that he observed that the PW18 tendered Exhibits PW18 – C and PW18 – C1 (which were extrajudicial statements of one Robert Ikazabor, the alleged proprietor of Innovative Solutions, which was at the epicentre of the case.
He said the maker of the extra-judicial statements was not brought as a witness during the trial.
“It is pertinent to say that Exhibits 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 Exhibits PW18 — C and PW18 – C1,” he said.
He said it was the presence of oral evidence that strengthened the 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 Mr Oronsaye and his co-defendant, Mr Afe.
According to him, the manner of investigation confirms the evidence of the 1st defendant as DW1 when he said 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 Bill the EFCC opposed.
“It was after the Bill was passed and assented that he (Oronsaye) received an 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,” Mr Ekwo said.
He said where an 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 a fair hearing and has the effect of annulling the proceeding based on such a petition,” he said.
The judge held that the evidence of Mr Oronsaye, as 1st defence witness (DW1), could 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 Mr 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.
In the case against Mr Afe, the 2nd defendant, Mr Ekwo recalled that the court, on 6 October 2020, made an order after trial-within-trial rejecting the extra statements he purportedly made on 24 February 2011 and 16 March 2011 because they were not obtained voluntarily.
He said in Mr Afe’s evidence as DW2, which the EFCC did not controvert, that the commission’s operatives invaded his house on 24 February 2011.
And that his properties, files and documents were carted away by the EFCC, and he was also arrested on that day and has not seen those properties, files and documents since then.
The judge said Section 36 (6) (b) of the Nigerian provided that every person charged with a criminal offence shall be entitled to time and adequate facilities to prepare his defence.
“I am of the opinion that 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 these proceedings 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.
Mr Ekwo consequently made an order setting aside the proceedings against Mr 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 million was withdrawn in 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 a reasonable doubt, and I so hold.
“I,, therefore, find the 3rd defendant guilty as charged,” he declared.
In the case against the 6th defendant – Drew Investment and Construction Company Limited – a company owned by the convicted Abdulrasheed Maina, the judge said: “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 a reasonable doubt, and I so hold.
“I,, therefore, find the 6th defendant guilty as charged.
“This is the judgment of this court.”
Support PREMIUM TIMES’ journalism of integrity and credibility
Good journalism costs a lot of money. Yet only good journalism can ensure the possibility of a good society, an accountable democracy, and a transparent government.
For continued free access to the best investigative journalism in the country we ask you to consider making a modest support to this noble endeavour.
By contributing to PREMIUM TIMES, you are helping to sustain a journalism of relevance and ensuring it remains free and available to all.
TEXT AD: Call Willie – +2348098788999