A Federal High Court Lagos, on Monday, overruled a no-case submission by former Director General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), Patrick Akpobolokemi, charged with N2.6 billion fraud.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had on December 4, 2015, arraigned Mr. Akpobolokemi alongside five others, for allegedly diverting N2.6 billion from the coffers of NIMASA between December 2013 and May 2015.
EFCC claimed the funds were approved by ex-President Goodluck Jonathan for the implementation of a security project.
Also charged along with Mr. Akpobolokemi are: Ezekiel Agaba, Ekene Nwakuche, Governor Juan, Blockz and Stonz Ltd and Al-Kenzo Logistic Ltd.
The accused had pleaded not guilty to the 22 charges pressed against them.
The prosecution had then opened its case and during trial, called a total of 12 witnesses and tendered 77 exhibits in a bid to establish its case.
After the prosecution closed its case, the accused, through their lawyers, filed no-case submissions, contending that the prosecution failed to established a prima facie case against them to warrant their entering any defence.
They had urged the court to uphold the no case submission and discharge the accused.
Delivering his ruling on Monday, the trial judge, Justice Ibrahim Buba noted that a plethora of cases had been cited by learned counsel in arguing their application for a no case submission.
Mr. Buba, however, pointed out that in delivering ruling on such no case submission the court is enjoined to keep its ruling as short as possible.
He said: “There are a plethora of cases listed by counsel, but the court is enjoined not to write its ruling as if it is writing its final judgment, but must keep its ruling as short as possible”.
Mr. Buba held that the charge was before the court and its ingredients are clear.
“The court therefore, cannot see the fuse in the argument that the prosecution has not made out a prima facie case against the defendants.
“When a judge is faced with a ruling on a no case submission, it is permissible for the ruling to be brief and simply read: “you have a case to answer.
“Consequently, the no case submission fails and is hereby overruled”.
The court therefore, adjourned the case to Oct. 30, Nov. 7 and Nov. 9 for the defence to open its case.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that in arguing Mr. Akpobolokemi’s no-case submission, his lawyer, Joseph Nwobike, had contended that the EFCC failed to link his client with the alleged diversion of funds from NIMASA.
He added that his signature to such effect was never shown to the court, as such the first accused could not be held liable because he did not approve the security project and money disbursed.
Mr. Nwobike had also described the evidence given against the accused by prosecution witness, as mere hearsay with no legal weight.
He, had therefore, urged the court to come to the conclusion, that the first accused cannot be called upon to enter any defence, because no prima facie case had been established against him.
Other defence counsels had also made their arguments on their no case submission.
In response, the prosecutor, Rotimi Oyedepo, maintained that the testimonies of the 12 witnesses and 77 exhibits tendered had successfully linked Mr. Akpobolokemi to the alleged fraud.
He had argued that being the head and chief accounting officer of NIMASA at the time of the alleged fraud, Mr. Akpobolokemi could not by any stretch of imagination, claim to be innocent.
The prosecutor had further argued that even if it was the former president that approved the security project, Mr. Akpobolokemi was the head of NIMASA at the time, and constituted a committee to handle the project and also approved its funds.
He further submitted that the prosecution had established that, rather than its intended purpose, the funds were illegally converted to the personal use of the accused.
In the 22 count charges, the EFCC alleged that the accused induced the Federal Government to approve and deliver to NIMASA the sum of N795 million under false pretence and that the sum represented the cost for the implementation of the Security Code in Nigeria.
The alleged offence contravened the provisions of Section 8 (a) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act, 2006.