By Michael Ojo
A Federal High Court in Lagos on Wednesday sentenced a former Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Executive Director (ED), Captain Ezekiel Bala Agaba, to seven years imprisonment for laundering N1,541,408,666.00(billion).
Justice Ibrahim Buba convicted Agaba of the seven counts of conversion and criminal breach of trust filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Buba held that the EFCC proved beyond reasonable doubt that the convict stole the sum from NIMASA while he was in charge of Maritime, Safety and Shipping.
He sentenced Agaba to seven years imprisonment on each of the seven counts, totalling 49 years.
But the sentences will run concurrently, the judge said, meaning Agaba will spend a maximum of only seven years in jail.
“The sentence runs with effect from today (Wednesday).”
The court declined the application of EFCC counsel Rotimi Oyedepo for the forfeiture of property allegedly bought by Agaba from the proceeds of the laundering.
Buba upheld the submission of the Agaba’s counsel Mr E.D. Oyeneke that the property is the subject of another suit at the Federal High Court.
Oyeneke had also in his allocutus prayed the court to order a non-custidial sentencing for Agaba, in view of his age being in the high risk category for COVID-19 infection in prison.
“In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, counsel should consider approaching the state for pardon for the convict,” Buba added.
The EFCC had in 2015 arraigned Agaba alongside a former NIMASA Managing Director (MD) Dr. Patrick Akpolobokemi, a former NIMASA staff Ekene Nwakuche and the chairman of Ndokwa Local Government Area (LGA) of Delta State, Juan Amechee Governor, for allegedly laundering N2.6 billion.
They pleaded not guilty.
Akpobolokemi filed a no case submission but Buba, on October 16, 2017, dismissed it.
This was overturned by the Court of Appeal in Lagos on June 1, 2016, which unanimously discharged and acquitted Akpobolokemi.
Following the appellate court’s decision, the anti-graft agency on October 10, 2019, withdrew the charges against Governor and Nwakuche.
But the EFCC maintained an amended charge against Agaba.
The Commission told the judge that between December 23, 2013 and March 13, 2014 in Lagos, Agaba converted the N1.5bn in tranches of N437,726,666.60,
N66,800,000, N21,802,000 and N402,480, 000.00, N525,000,000, N70,000.000 and N176, 000,000.
The funds were laundered through Seabulk Offshore Operator Ltd, Ace Protehesis Limited, Extreme Vertex Nigeria Limited and Aroward Consulting Limited.