An Ikeja Special Offences Court on Monday acquitted a teacher, Ebele Mbanugo, charged with stealing $110,267 from a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) belonging to Onari Duke, wife of a former governor of Cross-River State.
The police charged Mr Mbanugo, who was a Vice Principal at the American International School Lagos (AISL), with defrauding the Child Survival and Development Organisation of Nigeria, Mrs Duke’s NGO, of the funds between 2009 and 2011.
Delivering judgment, Justice Oluwatoyin Taiwo held that the prosecution failed to prove that Mrs Mbanugo stole the money.
The prosecution had accused the defendant of misappropriating the money raised for the purpose of purchasing mammogram machines for the detection of breast cancer.
She held that the criminal suit stemmed from a “serious and disruptive rivalry” between the defendant and Mrs Duke on the ownership of the fundraising initiative.
“The prosecution failed to prove that the money misappropriated belongs to Mrs Duke. Mrs Duke was not called to testify in this case.
“The testimony of the defendant showed how three mammogram machines were bought from General Electric for 133,000 dollars which is a sum higher than the sum allegedly misappropriated by the defendant.
“The prosecution failed to prove the source of the funds or that the defendant fraudulently converted it to her own use.
“The defendant had shown various brochures, pictures and documents highlighting her passion for fighting breast cancer as her mother and two aunts were diagnosed with the disease and she had said how early detection had saved her mother.
“It is unfortunate that such a laudable initiative could be marred by conflict between Mrs Duke and the defendant over ownership of the foundation,”
“The defendant is hereby discharged and acquitted and found not guilty of the three-count charge.”
Upon hearing the verdict, a visibly relieved Mrs Mbanugo burst into tears while profusely thanking the judge.
NAN reports that the prosecution led by K. O Sarumi had arraigned Mrs Mbanugo on October 8, 2014, on a three-count charge of stealing and fraudulent conversion.
“The defendant between 2009 and 2011 at American International School, Victoria Island, Lagos, in the fraudulently misappropriated the sum of $110,267.57 property of Child Survival and Development Organisation.
The prosecution alleged that between September and October 2012 the former AISL Vice-Principal stole and fraudulently converted to her personal use, a mammogram machine belonging to the NGO.
The offences contravene Sections 265(7) and 278(1) (b) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2011.
Mrs Mbanugo, however, during her testimony before the court denied the allegations. She said that in 2009 she had established an NGO called Run For Cure Africa to raise funds to purchase mammogram machines.
She said she had got acquainted with Mrs Duke because she taught her daughter at AISL and had approached the former Cross-River first lady to use her influence to aid with fundraising for Run For Cure Africa.
Mrs Mbanugo said that various Run for Cure Africa fundraising races were held in the premises of AISL from 2009 to 2011 with dignitaries such as Mrs Duke, Abimbola Fashola, former first lady of Lagos and various Consul-Generals.
The former AISL vice-principal had told the court that from the funds raised, Mrs Duke had received a cheque of N7.4 million.
She noted that three mammogram machines were bought which were donated to the Calabar Women and Children’s Hospital, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) and a branch of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG).
She said a dispute, however, arose between her and Mrs Duke over ownership of the initiative leading to the criminal suit being filed in court.