The Court of Appeal, sitting in Ibadan, on Thursday, discharged and acquitted a former governor of Oyo State, Adebayo Alao-Akala, over N11.5 billion corruption charges levelled against him by Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
Mr Alao-Akala was discharged and acquitted along with a former Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Sen. Hosea Agboola and a business mogul, Femi Babalola.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that Mr Agboola is currently the chairman of Advisory Council to Gov. Seyi Makinde of Oyo State.
He served as Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters during Mr Alao-Akala’s administration between 2007 and 2011, while Mr Babalola owns Pentagon Engineering Services, the engineering firm that executed some contracts during the period.
The litigation, which started 11 years ago, was concluded by a three-man panel, presided over by Justice Jimi Bada, with Justices Abba Muhammed and Abdulazeez Waziri as members.
The justices, in their unanimous judgment, set aside the ruling of the lower court.
The justices held that the trial court erred by ordering the defendants to enter defence for the three counts because the prosecution, led by EFCC, failed to establish a prima facie case against them.
While Mr Bada read the judgment for Alao-Akala, Messrs Muhammed and Waziri read the judgments for Messrs Babalola and Agboola respectively.
NAN also reports that the three defendants/appellants were physically present at the court during the judgment.
Counsel to EFCC, Benedict Ubi, however, refused to speak with journalists after the judgment.
In his own reaction, lead counsel to Messrs Alao-Akala and Babalola, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN, represented by Abiodun Ogunjinmi, described the judgment as “beautiful”.
“We really appreciate and thank God for giving us a beautiful judgment today.
“The justices did a marvellous job. This case started in 2012, which was about 11 years ago but ended well today.
“The appellant, Alao-Akala and Babalola were all finally discharged and acquitted,” Mr Ogunjimi said.
Messrs Alao-Akala and Babalola, in their reactions, also commended the judiciary for the judgment.
“I’ve always relied on the judiciary as the last hope of the common man like me.
“So, we thank God for everything. God has settled everything, and so, let us forget about the number of years the case took,” the former governor said.
NAN recalls that Alao-Akala and the two others were arraigned before an Oyo State High Court, sitting in Ibadan in 2012 by EFCC on an 11-count charge, bordering on N11.5 billion fraud.
The charges comprised conspiracy, awarding contract without budgetary provisions, obtaining by false pretence, acquiring property with money derived from illegal acts and concealing the ownership of such property, among others.
EFCC’s counsel had told the lower court that when Alao-Akala was the governor, he awarded a road contract worth N8.5billion between 2007 and 2009 to Mr Babalola’s firm, Pentagon Engineering Services.
Mr Ubi alleged further that the firm handled the contract on behalf of the 33 local government areas of the state without budgetary provision.
He said that the former governor ordered the supply of drilling machines on behalf of the 33 local government areas at the cost of N3.5 billion.
The counsel also said that Mr Alao-Akala conspired with Mr Ayoola to withdraw N2.9 billion from the Join State and Local Government Account.
He further told the court that the former governor illegally acquired some property at Old Bodija Road, Off Rotimi Williams Road in Ibadan, when he was governor.
The EFCC counsel stated that the alleged offences contravened section 22 (4) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act and Section 1 (18) of the Advanced Fee Fraud Act.
The three defendants, however, filed a no-case submission after EFCC had closed its case before the court.
The trial court, presided over by Justice Muniru Owolabi, struck out eight out of the 11 count-charge against Alao-Akala and the two others.
Mr Owolabi then ordered Mr Alao-Akala to enter defence for the remaining three counts, bordering on conspiracy, obtaining money by false pretence and award of contract without budgetary provision.
He, however, discharged the former governor on the charges of acquiring property with money derived from an illegal act and concealing ownership of such property.
The judge said the witnesses called by the prosecutor failed to link evidence to the acquired property, adding that EFCC also failed to prove genuine ownership of the property.
Having dissatisfied with the judgment by the lower court, Mr Alao-Akala and the two other defendants then headed for the Court of Appeal.