Lagos – A Federal High Court in Lagos on Tuesday ordered a former Acting Director-General of NIMASA, Calistus Obi, to open his defence in a N136 million fraud.
The judge, Justice Mojisola Olatoregun, gave the order after ruling on a no case submission filed by the defendant.
Olatoregun held that “the central issue to consider having gone through the submissions on all sides is whether there is no legally admissible evidence linking the defendants with the commission of the offence of conversion of money belonging to NIMASA.
“Or that the evidence has been discredited by cross examination, or so manifestly unreliable that no reasonable tribunal or court can act on it as establishing the criminal guilt of the defendant.
“I cannot at this stage go into evaluation of the evidence before me or whether a particular document was wrongly admitted.
“The key question is whether those evidence can justifiably secure the conviction of the defendants,’’ Olatoregun said.
She added: “I have only the evidence of the prosecution and so, can any reasonable tribunal or judge honestly say that from the evidence so far adduced by prosecution,
“It is for now immaterial whether or not I believe the evidence of the prosecution; for now, the credibility of the witness does not arise.
“I either directly or circumstantially, that the defendants should not be called upon to make an explanation as regards their conducts? My answer is No!
“I must admit that there is a prima facie case made out against the defendants; this must be distinguished from the proof of the guilt of the defendants, a conclusion which I can only arrive at, at the end of the case, when the court has to find out whether the defendant is guilty or not.
“I have juxtaposed the evidence provided by the prosecution in sections 15 (1) and 18 (a) of the Money Laundering Prohibition Act and the essential element of the offences, and I am satisfied that the defendants has a reason to be called upon to place their defence before the court.
The respective submissions on no case by the defence, is hereby over ruled, and I rely on the cases of Obasohan v Federal Government as well as Amadi vs Federal Government,” she held.
The court, consequently adjourned the suit till March 24 and March 27 for the accused to open their defences.
The court added that the defence must be prepared to open and close its case on those dates in order to make progress.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had arraigned Obi on an eight-count charge.
The former boss of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) was arraigned alongside Alu Dismas, a former personal assistant to Patrick Akpobolokemi.
They had pleaded not guilty to the charges and were admitted to bail in the sum of five million Naira each.
At the last adjourned date, defence counsel, Mr Wale Akoni (SAN), had informed the court of his application for a no case submission filed on Dec. 2, 2016, on behalf of the first accused.
He had urged the court to hold that the prosecution had not made out a prima facie case to secure the conviction of the accused.
In the same vein, counsel to the second accused, Mr Joseph Nwobike (SAN), had also urged the court to uphold the no case submission of his client and discharge him.
He had argued that the charges against his client were predicated mainly on conspiracy and conversion, adding that the prosecution had not made out sufficient evidence in proving an agreement to commit the offence.
In response, the prosecutor, Mr Rotimi Oyedepo, had objected to the no case submission of defence counsel, and urged the court to call upon the accused to enter their defence.
Oyedepo had urged the court to have a glimpse at the totality of evidences adduced by prosecution before arriving at a conclusion whether same could secure a conviction.
In the charge, the accused were said to have committed the alleged offence on Aug. 5 2014.
They were said to have conspired to convert the said sum, property of NIMASA, and knowing same to be proceeds of stealing.
The offence contravened sections 15 and 18(a) of the Money Laundering Prohibition (Amendment) Act, 2012.