Former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu has been sentenced to 12 years imprisonment for a N7.65 billion fraud.
Kalu, who is the Senator representing Abia North in the National Assembly, was arraigned alongside his company, Slok Nigeria Limited and Udeh Udeogu, his Director of Finance and Accounts at the Abia State Government House over an amended 39-count charge for conspiring and diverting the sum of N7.65bn from the coffers of the state.
The defendants pleaded not guilty to the charges brought against them by the EFCC, thereby leading to their full trial.
In the course of the trial, the prosecution counsel, Rotimi Jacobs, SAN, called 19 witnesses and tendered several documents that were admitted in evidence by the court.
The defendants, however, testified on behalf of themselves during the trial.
The parties, during the proceedings on Tuesday, October 22, 2019, adopted their final written addresses.
In his final submission, the prosecution counsel, Jacobs, urged the Judge to jail the defendants, saying the prosecution had proved the allegations against them.
Jacobs further stated that the second defendant had already admitted to the offence both in his extra-judicial statement and under cross-examination.
Justice Idris held that the prosecution had established its case against the defendants.
The Judge further held that “the case was conclusively investigated, as the prosecution conducted thorough investigations.
“No gaps were left unfilled; this is the acceptable practice.
“The first defendant failed in his obligations under the law.
“He acted contrary to his codes of conduct and will be dealt with accordingly.
“No evil deed will go unpunished.
“The offences are anti-human; it is condemned worldwide because it is a crime against humanity.”
Justice Idris, therefore, convicted and sentenced the first defendant, Kalu to five years imprisonment on counts 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 and 11; three years on counts 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, 32, 33; 12 years on counts 34, 35, 36, 37 and 38 and five years on count 39.
Justice Idris further held that Kalu’s company, Slok Nigeria Limited, the third defendant, be wounded up and all assets forfeited to the Federal Government.
The road to prison
On the 27th of September 2019, The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has re-arraigned Orji Kalu and two others on a 34-count amended charge bordering on fraud. Kalu, his company, Slok Nigeria Limited and his former Commissioner for Finance, Jones Udeogo, were re-arraigned before Justice AnwuriChikere of the Federal High Court, Abuja.
Kalu and others were, in the amended charge, accused of diverting about N3.2 billion from the Abia government’s treasury during Kalu’s tenure as governor. They all pleaded not guilty to the charges and Justice Chikere allowed them on bail on the terms attached to the bail granted them on April 30, 2008. They had been arraigned eight years ago before Justice Adamu Bello, who is now retired.
EFCC had on Oct. 31, 2016, preferred a 34-count charge against the defendants. The charge was later increased to 39 counts.
The defendants, however, pleaded not guilty to all the counts and were granted bail. Justice Idris, who tried the case, has been elevated to the Court of Appeal. He consequently conducted and concluded the trial by fiat, following the accelerated hearing, Idris concluded trial in August. The judge then reserved judgment now to be delivered on Dec. 5.
On Nov. 12, 2018, Kalu was absent for his trial, after being absent on a previously adjourned date – Nov. 5, 2018. Although defense counsel informed the court that he was away for medical treatment in Germany, the court revoked his bail and ordered that at his return to Nigeria, he must submit himself and his travel documents to the EFCC, or be arrested.
In the charge, the EFCC said that the defendants committed the alleged offenses between August 2001 and October 2005. It said that Kalu utilized his company’s account to retain N200 million in First Inland bank (now First City Monument Bank). The commission claimed that the sum formed part of funds illegally derived from the coffers of the Abia State Government.
In one of the counts, Kalu’s company (Slok Nig. Ltd.) and one EmekaAbone said to be at large, were alleged to have retained in the company’s account, the sum of N200 million on behalf of the ex-governor. In counts one to 10, the defendants were alleged to have retained about N2.5 billion belonging to the Abia.
The EFCC said that the defendants diverted over N7.2 billion from the Abia government’s treasury during Kalu’s tenure as the governor, in contravention of Sections 15(6), 16 and 21 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2005.
The commission said that the offenses also contravene the provisions of the Money Laundering Act of 1995 as amended.
Up until the judgment, Kalu is the Senate Chief Whip.
On September 2019, Mao Ohuabunwa of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) had approached the tribunal to nullify the election of Kalu, who contested February 23, 2019, election on the platform of the All Progressives Congress (APC).
The petitioner told the tribunal that Mr.Kalu’s declaration as the winner of the poll by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) did not comply with the provisions of the 2010 Electoral Act as amended. He alleged that INEC failed in its duty to ensure that all the unit results were duly recorded in the relevant ward and local government result sheets, adding that the commission also disenfranchised many registered voters in the constituency.
The panel, therefore, nullified the election and ordered a supplementary election in the affected areas within 90 days.
However, on November 8, 2019, the Court of Appeal in Owerri on Thursday affirmed the election of Orji Kalu, senator representing Abia North Senatorial District. In a unanimous decision, the court held that the lower tribunal, which upturned Mr.Kalu’s election, erred on several counts.
Delivering the judgment, the judge, R. A. Adah, said the grounds upon which the election tribunal predicated its verdict were not tenable in law. The judgment of the Appeal Court was coloured like a “victory for democracy and the people of Abia in general.”