The federal high court in Lagos has sentenced the former governor of Abia State, Senator Orji Uzor Kalu to 12 years imprisonment after being found guilty on all the 39-count charges of fraud, embezzlement and money laundering brought against him, in the case that had been on for 12 years. The convicts had each pleaded not guilty to the charges, and had been granted bail. It was not clear whether Kalu; who defected from the Peoples Democratic Party, and is currently a Senator of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), would appeal the verdict.
Kalu, alongside his firm, Slok Nigeria Ltd and his former Abia State director of finance and accounts, Ude Udeogu were convicted of N7.65billion fraud perpetuated when he was Abia State governor between 1999 and 2007. Justice Mohammed Idris, who delivered the sentence, also ordered forfeiture of all assets of Kalu’s company to the federal government.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had on October 31, 2016, preferred a 34-count charge bordering on N3.2 billion fraud against the accused. EFCC however amended the charges on July 16, 2018 to 39 counts with the sum increased to N7.65 billion. In one of the counts, the EFCC alleged that Kalu, who was Abia State governor between 1999 and 2007, “did procure Slok Nigeria Limited – a company solely owned by you and members of your family – to retain in its account , domiciled with the then Inland Bank Plc , Apapa branch , Lagos , an aggregate sum of N7,197,871,208 .7 on your behalf. ”
The prosecution claimed that the N7.1bn “formed part of the funds illegally derived from the treasury of the Abia State Government and which was converted into several bank drafts before they were paid into the said company’s account.” The prosecuting counsel, Rotimi Jacobs ( SAN), said the ex -governor violated Section 17 (c) of the Money Laundering ( Prohibition ) Act , 2004, and was liable to be punished under Section 16 of the same Act .
Apart from the N7.1bn which he was accused of laundering, the ex-governor and the other defendants were also accused of receiving a total of N460m allegedly stolen from the Abia State Government treasury between July and December 2002. The prosecutor said they breached Section 427 of the Criminal Code Act, Cap 77, Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 1990.
Delivering a 288-pages judgment Thursday, Justice Idris who came into the court at excatly 9.10a.m. first chronicled all counts of the charge, and found Kalu and his company guilty of all counts of the 39-count charge. The court found the second defendant (Udeogo) guilty of 34 counts. Justice Idris sentenced Kalu as follows: On counts one, two, three, and four, he sentenced the convict to five years imprisonment on each count, while on counts six to 11, he sentenced him to three years imprisonment each. On counts 23 to 33 he sentenced the first defendant to three years imprisonment on each count, while on counts 34 to 38, he sentenced him to 12 years imprisonment each. On the count 39, he sentenced him to five years imprisonment.
For the second defendant, (Udeogo) the court sentenced him to three years imprisonment on counts 23 to 33, and sentenced him to 10 years imprisonment on counts 34 to 38, while he sentenced him to five years imprisonment on count 39. For the Company, Slok Nigeria Ltd, the court ordered that it be wound up and all its assets forfeited to the federal government. The court held that the terms of imprisonment shall run concurrently.
With his conviction and sentencing, Kalu has joined the ignoble list of former governors convicted for offences committed during their tenure. While some of the convicted ex-governors have served their jail terms, two are currently in prison. One of them was ex-Bayelsa Governor Diepreye Alamieyesegha who was jailed for two years following a plea bargain after he was found guilty of money laundering. Alamiesegha was granted pardon by then President Goodluck Jonathan in 2013. He died in 2015. Also, former Edo State Governor Lucky Igbinedion bagged a six month jail term for laundering N25 billion. He however paid N3.5 million based on a plea bargain which he struck to avoid serving a jail term.
Another name on the list of convicted former governor is James Ibori of Delta state who was sentenced to 13 years’ imprisonment by a London court for money laundering. He served his jail term in a London prison. Also on the list of convicted former governors is former Governor James Bala Ngilari of Adamawa, who was sentenced to five years’ jail term without an option of fine for defrauding his state of N167 million.
Former Plateau State Governor, Joshua Dariye , is another governor on that list. He was convicted and sentenced to 14 years in prison for misappropriating N1.16 billion ecological funds during his tenure as governor of Plateau. Like Kalu, he was a serving senator at the time of his conviction. Dariye is currently serving his jail term. Also on the list is former Governor Jolly Nyame of Taraba State. Nyame was jailed 14 years for diverting N1.64 billion. Like Dariye, he is still in jail.
In reaction to the verdict, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and some other civil society groups lauded the 12-year prison sentence with the Executive Director, Adetokunbo Mumuni, hailing the judiciary for justice delivered. Mumuni said the judiciary was playing its part in the anti-graft war.
“What we see now is that the judiciary is trying to live up to expectations; what must be done has to be done. The facts of the case have been properly reviewed, evidence thoroughly analysed; there is no basis for querying the judgment; however, let us see the reaction of Orji Uzor Kalu’s counsel to the verdict. If his counsel wants to appeal, they have the right to do so, but if the allegations and evidence are anything to go by, I believe justice has been properly served irrespective of whoever is involved,” he said.