Former Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Minister, Malam Nasir el-Rufai’s acquittal by an Abuja High Court in a case of land grabbing might only be temporary as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) said Sunday it will challenge the decision of the court just as it described the Supreme Court ruling on Chief Olabode George as “unfortunate”.
The EFCC lamented that Mr. el-Rufai was cleared of all the charges brought against him despite what it said is “the weight of the evidence presented by the Commission in court”.
A spokesperson for the anti-graft commission, Wilson Uwajeren in a statement yesterday said, “Consequently, the EFCC has resolved to pursue an appeal against the ruling at the Court of Appeal”.
Mr. El-Rufai, who was then a Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP) chieftain but now a leading member of the opposition All Progressives Congress, APC, was cleared of charges of allegedly using his position as FCT minister from 2003-2007 to revoke a plot of land from its previous owners – Power Holding Company of Nigeria Plc – and re-award same to his wife – Hadiza Ahmed – and associates, contrary to the Corrupt and Other Related Offences Act, 2000.
The former minister, alongside Altine Jibrin, former director-general of the Abuja Geographic Information System (AGIS) and its former General Manager, Ismaila Iro, were first arraigned in 2008 and later re-arraigned on an amended eight-count charge in April 2011.
In his ruling Friday, the court presided over by Justice Sadiq Umar held that the evidence provided by the prosecution were flawed and filled with material contradictions hence a prima facie case case could not be established against the former minister and his co-accused.
On Mr. George, a former national vice-chairman of PDP (South) and former chairman of the Nigerian Ports Authority (NPA), whose October 2009 conviction was nullified by the Supreme Court, the EFCC expressed dismay over the development but said it would abide by the ruling.
Mr. George and five others were convicted by Justice Olubunmi Oyewole of the Lagos High Court after being found guilty in an N84 billion fraud filed by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
The PDP chieftain was subsequently sentenced to 30 months in prison and was released in 2011.
But the apex court ruled that the former NPA boss’ conviction was wrong since the offence he was convicted for – contract splitting – was not yet a crime in 2009. He was freed alongside five others, who were members of the NPA board.
The others are Aminu Dabo, Captain O. Abidoye, Alh. Abdullahi Aminu Tafida, Alh. Zanna Maideribe and Sule Aliyu.
But the commission said in its statement that “Without going into the merit or otherwise of the Supreme court ruling, it is unfortunate that the apex court disagreed with the decision of the two lower courts- the Lagos High Court and the Court of Appeal- which upheld the conviction of the accused persons based on the evidence presented by the Commission”.
The commission said while the order nullifying the conviction was “saddening”, it will abide by the law and respect the ruling.