BEVERLY HILLS, CA, NOVEMBER 03, (THEWILL) – Relief has finally come for a former Deputy Executive Secretary of the Universal Basic Education Commission, UBEC, Prof. Bridget Omotunde Sokan, and six others, accused of allegedly misappropriating N787 million belonging to the Commission.
The relief stems from the decision of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, (EFCC) to accept the judgment of Justice Adamu Bello of the Federal High Court, Abuja which had earlier discharged the accused.
The commission has therefore withdrawn the appeal it filed against the judgment and accepted the discharge of Sokan and six others.
It will be recalled that the commission had filed a notice of withdrawal pursuant to Order 11 Rule 1of the Court of Appeal Rules.
The notice dated October 25 , 2013 was signed by a Chief Legal Officer with the commission, Mr Sylvanus Tahir.
The notice reads: “Take notice that the Appellant herein intends and doth hereby wholly withdraws its appeal dated and filed on the 23rd September 2013, against the Respondents in the above mentioned appeal.”
The prosecutor, Mr Wahab Shittu , was also said to have been debriefed.
Justice Bello had discharged the seven accused persons after upholding their no case submission.
They were first arraigned on May 18, 2009 on a 63-count charge of fraudulent inducement, criminal conspiracy and subversion of due processes in the award of contract and other offences.
The other six accused are: Molkat Manasseh Mutfwang, Dr. Andrew Ekpunobi, Michael Aule and companies used in perpetrating the alleged fraud, Intermarkets USA; Intermarkets Nigeria Limited and Alexander John Cozma, a foreign contractor.
Durin the trial, all the accused persons denied any wrong doing and filed a no case submission which was subsequently upheld by the court after several years of trial.
In the notice of appeal, EFCC had sought a review of the ruling of the lower court on two grounds: One, that the trial judge erred in law by upholding and granting the 1st – 7th respondents’ application for a no-case submission in spite of the evidential materials, oral and documentary before the lower court at the close of the prosecution’s case.
The prosecutor, Shittu, said he placed before the lower court 75 legally admissible (and admitted) materials including indicting oral testimonies of 7 witnesses providing prima facie evidence entitling the Accused/Respondents to enter into their defence and offer explanations in respect of the charges preferred against them at the lower court.
Shittu said the evidence adduced by the prosecution against all the accused persons was neither discredited during cross examination nor manifestly unreliable as erroneously held by the trial court.
He stated that the court did not condition its mind to the fact that at the stage of a no case submission, the believability of the evidence was not an issue.
Citing a plethora of authorities, EFCC counsel said it was premature at the stage of trial for the judge to determine if evidence was sufficient to justify a conviction.
He argued that the lower court made a far-reaching and conclusive pronouncements touching on the credibility of witnesses, the guilt/innocence of the accused/respondents including detailed evaluation of evidence tendered in the proceedings which ought not to have arisen for consideration at the stage of a no case submission.
On the second ground of appeal, EFCC said the trial judge erred in law on the purport and meaning of jurisprudence of prima facie in reaching a decision that the accused/respondents had no case to answer.
The commission maintained that according to several authorities, prima facie means ‘ground for proceeding’ and not same as ‘proof’ which comes later when the court has to determine whether an accused is guilty or not.
“It is a settled law that prima facie case is the minimal incriminating evidence that must be apparent to the court when the prosecution closes in a criminal trial,” the prosecutor said.
EFCC also said that the lower court did not give weight to the legally admissible evidence (Report) from the Auditor General of the Federation, marked exhibit 6, indicting the accused persons. It said neither did it weigh in other reports from the State Security Services (SSS) marked exhibit 10 and the investigative report of EFCC also marked exhibit 59.