An official of the Independent National Electoral Commission, Mr. Christian Nwosu, who was convicted of taking N30m bribe to compromise the 2015 general elections, has abandoned the plea bargain he entered with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission.
Nwosu, who was arraigned for bribery on April 5 alongside two of his colleagues in the commission, had earlier pleaded guilty to taking N30m out of a total bribe of N264.88m offered by a former Minister of Petroleum Resources, Mrs. Diezani Alison-Madueke, to compromise the election.
The prosecuting counsel for the EFCC, Rotimi Oyedepo, had told the court that Nwosu had entered into a plea bargain agreement with the commission, adding that the commission had recovered from him N5m cash and a parcel of land worth N25m, which he purchased with the proceeds of bribery.
Subsequently on April 27, the EFCC presented the plea bargain agreement before the Federal High Court in Lagos, urging the presiding judge, Justice Mohammed Idris, to adopt the terms as the court’s decision in the case.
In the said plea bargain agreement dated April 5, the EFCC accepted an offer by Nwosu to pay a fine of N500,000 as the punishment for his offence beside the land and the N5m that had been recovered from him.
But in his ruling on April 27, Justice Idris rejected the N500,000 fine, holding that Section 16(2)(b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, under which Nwosu was charged, prescribed a minimum of two-year imprisonment or a fine of N10m for anyone convicted under the Act.
Justice Idris said he could not endorse the plea bargain agreement, as it would amount to a breach of the law.
The judge said Nwosu was at liberty to rescind his decision on the plea bargain.
In response, Nwosu’s lawyer, Mrs. Adaku Mbana, had sought an adjournment to enable her client weigh his options, saying, “We are, right now, between the deep blue sea and the devil of N10m fine and two-year imprisonment.”
Justice Idris had then adjourned till May 3.
At the resumed proceedings today (Wednesday), Nwosu appeared in court with a new lawyer, Obinna Okereke, who said his client was backtracking on the plea bargain.
The new lawyer accused the EFCC of not being sincere with his client, saying he was cajoled into the plea bargain agreement.
Following the withdrawal of Nwosu’s plea bargain, Oyedepo presented an amended charge before the court and asked that the case file be sent to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for re-assignment to another judge.
This, he said, was because the Administration of Criminal Justice Act stipulated that a judge who had rejected a plea bargain could no longer preside over the case.
But the defence counsel, Okereke, argued that the court needed not be in a hurry to return the case file to the Chief Judge for reassignment.
He argued that his client could not be said to have truly entered into any plea bargain agreement with the EFCC because he was ill advised by the anti-graft agency and was denied the liberty of hiring a counsel of his choice.
Okereke said what was more pressing was for the court to entertain Nwosu’s bail application because he had been in the EFCC custody for over a month.
After listening to the parties, Justice Idris adjourned till May 15 for the counsel to address him on the issue of transferring the case file to the Chief Judge.
Meanwhile, the judge convicted Yisa Adedoyin, who was joined as the second defendant in the case.
Adedoyin, who had earlier pleaded not guilty to receiving N70,050m from the Diezani bribe, changed his mind and entered into a plea bargain with the EFCC.
According to the plea bargain agreement presented to the court on Wednesday, Yisa opted to forfeit to the Federal Government a parcel of land at Taoreed Road, Buda-Osho Village, Kwara State and also pay a fine of N10m.
Ruling on the plea bargain, Justice Idris said it was acceptable as it complied with the Section 270 of the ACJA.
The judge held, “Five million naira has been recovered and surrendered. Assets attached in excess of N30m have been recovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission. I
“t is not in contention that the 2nd defendant is a first-time offender; therefore, the court will tamper justice with mercy. It is in this light that I find the plea agreement entered into between the Federal government of Nigeria and the second defendant acceptable.”