A Federal High Court in Lagos on Friday sentenced two ex-officials of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Christian Nwosu and Tijani Bashir, to seven years’ imprisonment each.
The convicts were charged with N264.8 million gratification and money laundering.
They received the gratification from a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Diezani Alison-Madueke, in the build-up to the 2015 general elections.
Nwosu and Bashir were prosecuted by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Justice Mohammed Idris who has been elevated to the Court of Appeal, concluded the case on fiat, on Friday.
“The convicts were or are officials of INEC and expected to conduct themselves as impartial umpires in carrying out their activities.
“I understand it to be the mission of INEC to serve as an independent and effective election management body that is committed to the conduct of free, fair and credible elections for sustainable democracy in Nigeria.
“These convicts, by their conduct, acted in breach of the said objectives; their actions were a disgrace to the institution and a threat to democracy.
“INEC officials must be made to understand that their conducts must be within the ambit of the law, and that anyone who breaches the law would be dealt with to the full extent of the law,” the judge held.
He said that Nigeria should not be allowed to descend into anarchy, despondency, financial, political or moral infamy by the conduct of an official of government.
“This country cannot afford an unhealthy electoral body as we go into the forthcoming elections; INEC must note that this country deserves a credible election.
“Anyone that acts contrary to the law, will be dealt with; the country only needs those with indomitable courage and impeccable political will to perform this duty, and those who play ignoble role must be identified.
“Evil communication, they say, corrupts good manners.
“In light of the alocutus, the court will tamper justice with mercy to the extent only permitted by the law.
“Again, a strong message must be sent to INEC that the eyes of the world is on it; the entire nation is watching, and those who decide to act contrary to their code of office will be identified.”
Idris said that when identified, such people should be prosecuted and severely punished, if found guilty.
“It is in this circumstance and in the light of all that have been said in the alocutus that the court hereby sentences the convicts as follows:
“For the first and second convicts, you are hereby sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment each on count one, seven years on count two, five years on count three, and five years on count four.
“For the second convict, Mr Bashir, you are hereby sentenced to seven years’ each on counts five to eight.
“Both convicts are sentenced to seven years each on count nine. All sentences are to run concurrently,” Idris held.
He ordered forfeiture, to the Federal Government, of two landed property in Delta, belonging to Nwosu and seized by the EFCC and worth N5 million and N20 million, respectively.
The judge also ordered that N5 million recovered from him should be forfeited to the Federal Government.
Idris also ordered forfeiture, to the government, of Bashir’s the landed property at No. 6, Umi St., Wuse, Abuja, valued at N27 million.
Earlier, Nwosu’s counsel, Mr Victor Opara, prayed the court to temper justice with mercy, saying that his client was a first-time offender.
“My lord, he is a 64-year-old man, father of four; I beg your lordship to take his ailing health condition into consideration. Furthermore, he has served the Federal Government for 35 years,” Opara said.
Mr K.I. Marcus, counsel to Bashir, adopted the submission of Opara, adding that Bashir lost his wife in October 2018 and had four children to provide for.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the EFCC charged the ex-officials along with one Yisa Adedoyin, who had been convicted by the court after he pleaded guilty to the charge.
The EFCC said that the convicts ought to know that the money they collected from Alison-Madueke formed part of proceeds of an unlawful act.
The ex-officials were re-arraigned after their co-accused (Adedoyin) changed his plea by admitting complicity in the offences.
Nwosu and Bashir maintained their pleas of not guilty and began defence on Sept. 19, 2018, and Sept. 21, 2018, respectively.
After conclusion of trial, parties adopted their final addresses on Nov. 8, 2018, and the court adjourned until Jan. 23 for judgment.
The judge convicted Nwosu and Bashir on Thursday in a 47-minute judgement, but reserved sentencing for Friday to enable Nwosu to appear in court.
Nwosu was not in court on Thursday as he was said to be sick and hospitalised.
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