The Federal High Court in Lagos has discharged and acquitted a former governor of Oyo State, Chief Rashidi Ladoja, of the N4.7bn fraud charges pressed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission in 2008.
Delivering judgement in the 11-year-old trial on Friday, Justice Mohammed Idris said the evidence brought to court against Ladoja and Waheed Akanbi, a former Oyo State Commissioner for Finance, was “too low on credible evidence.”
The judge said the EFCC failed to call relevant witnesses that could have helped it to prove its case, adding that the six witnesses it called gave inconsistent and contradictory testimonies.
The judge said most of the documents which the EFCC tendered in support of its case were lacking in probative value since relevant witnesses were not called to speak to them.
He noted also that the prosecution was inconsistent with the amount of money it claimed that the defendants diverted and laundered.
Justice Idris described the handling of Ladoja’s case by the prosecutor, Mr Olabisi Olufemi from the law firm of Festus Keyamo, as an example of how a criminal case should not be handled.
Describing the prosecution of Ladoja and Akanbi as unjust, Justice Idris said he found that if anyone was to be prosecuted for the alleged fraud, it should have been the persons whom the EFCC fielded as prosecution witnesses two, three and four.
The judge said, “There is a thin line between success and failure; that thin line is called credible evidence. The case of the prosecution is too low on credible evidence. For this reason, I agree with the 1st defendant when he stated that to sustain the 11 counts, the prosecution called six witnesses, three of whom, being PW2, PW3 and PW4, are participles criminis, who adduced material evidence.
“The court, therefore, warns itself of the danger of believing the evidence of PW2, PW3, and PW4, who are participles criminis, without collaboration of same by an independent witness.”
The judge said there was no way government would succeed in its anti-corruption fight, where real offenders were shielded as in Ladoja’s case.
He said, “This country cannot sustain the fight against corruption in the manner in which this case has been prosecuted, where those that should be proper defendants in the case were shielded away from prosecution. This is injustice and this court will not partake in an injustice.”
“Prosecutors must be committed to promoting a justice system founded on fairness, equity, compassion,” he added.
Justice Idris said as the prosecution failed to prove any of the 11 counts against Ladoja and Akanbi, he was unable to convict them as requested by the EFCC.
Reacting to the judgment, Ladoja said, “I’m grateful to God. It shows that the judge actually understood the issue. What interests me about the judgement was the fact that the judge made some fundamental observations. That if you want to fight corruption in Nigeria, the prosecution should work better.
“He pointed out that the people who were supposed to be charged were shielded from prosecution. Which means that they were only looking for big names; they wanted to prosecute Ladoja because he was a former governor; whereas the people who stole the money were there, shielded by the prosecution.”
The former governor said the 11-year trial took a toll on him.
“11-year-old trial, it has taken a toll on me. But I only hope that this will be a lesson to the prosecution.”