A former member of the House of Representatives and Governorship Aspirant in Anambra State, Hon. Chuma Nzeribe, has been convicted in the 4- count criminal charges brought against him by the Federal Government.
The former lawmaker was convicted by an Abuja High Court for impersonation, possession of Federal Government’s documents and using same to fraudulently acquire land at Maitama District of Abuja. Nzeribe could, however, not be sentenced to prison following his absence in court when judgement in the criminal charge against him was delivered.
Justice Halilu Yusuf while delivering judgement said he would reserve the sentence pending the convict’s arrest by the police and operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The judge ordered that the land in Maitama acquired with the forged documents be taken over by the owner, Ishaya Madi, with immediate effect. Nzeribe had stunned the court for the third time over his absence without any cogent reason.
Rather than showing up in court, Nzeribe wrote the EFCC a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) surrendering the land he fraudulently aquired to the real owner, Ishaya Madi. When the EFCC’s lawyer, Maryam Aminu Ahmed, produced the letter personally signed by Nzeribe, the judge only took judicial notice of it.
However, Nzeribe’s new lawyer, Victor Eden, informed the court that he was not in the knowledge of the discussion that led to the issuance of the MoU and the surrendering of the land in dispute to the nominal complainants.
The former lawmaker was alleged to have sometimes in March 2013 in Abuja took possession of a document containing false pretence with reference number MFCT/LA/FCT 1302, dated June 18, 2003, bearing the name of Ramatu Alhassan and thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 6, 8(b) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Fraud Related Offences Act, 2006 and punishable under Section 1 (3) of the same Act.
Nzeribe, a former Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) governorship aspirant in Anambra State, was, among others, accused of using the alleged document as genuine, thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 366 of the Penal Code Act Cap 532 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria (Abuja) and punishable under Section 364 of the same Act.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges at the beginning of the case. Delivering judgement in the matter in which the prosecution called five witnesses and the defendant testified for himself, Justice Halilu noted that to achieve conviction in a criminal matter, the prosecution must prove its case beyond reasonable doubt. The judge held that the prosecution was able to discharge the onus of proof and was able to prove its case against Nzeribe beyond any reasonable doubt.
While submitting that the charges against the convict were intertwined, the judge convicted the defendant on all the four-count charge. Justice Halilu queried why a man who rose to become a member of the House of Representatives could not register the little document to the said land he claimed he brought from someone, knowing that same was in his best interest.
Having found the former lawmaker guilty as charged by EFCC, Justice Halilu said the court would defer sentencing of the convict to such a time that either the Inspector-General of Police or the EFCC will arrest Nzeribe and bring him to court to be sentenced appropriately.
Earlier, in view of Nzeribe’s absence in court for the judgment, the prosecution’s lawyer, Maryam Aminu Ahmed, urged the court to go ahead and deliver its verdict in line with the provision of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), 2015.
According to her, Nzeribe chose to be absent in court despite being served with hearing notice for the day’s court sitting and also two previous adjournment at his instance. She further urged the court to make an order that the former lawmaker has made a misconduct behaviour against the court
This was, however, opposed by the convict’s lawyer, Victor Eden, who claimed that the court cannot deliver judgement in the absence of the defendant, saying the law forbids such action.
Ruling on this, the judge held that Nzeribe has misconducted the minute he was served the hearing notice that judgement was ready and he failed to present himself in court. He noted that there was no reason for the convict’s absence in court other than his refusal to receive judgement, adding that the provision of the law which specified that the defendant must be present in court was only to give him fair hearing