Breaking! Court frees Ikuforiji after 13 years of trial

Ogunsakin Mustapha
7 Min Read
Hon Adeyemi Ikuforiji with his lawyer, Ademola Adesina and friends after court judgement on Monday.

After 13 years of trial for money laundering offences, a Federal High Court in Lagos on Monday afternoon discharged and acquitted a former Speaker of the Lagos State House of Assembly, Hon Sabitu Adeyemi Ikuforiji.

Justice Mohammed Liman acquitted the former speaker and his former aide, Oyebode Atoyebi, of 54-counts of money laundering.

Ikuforiji stepping out of court.

Delivering judgment, Justice Liman held that the prosecution failed to discharge the burden of proof placed on it by the provisions of the law.

Ikuforiji was charged by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) alongside Atoyebi on a 54-counts charge bordering on alleged N338.8 million money laundering.

They had each pleaded not guilty and were allowed to continue on an earlier bail granted to them in 2012 when they were first arraigned.

On March 17, 2021, the EFCC had closed its case after calling the second witness for the prosecution. Prosecution called a total of two witnesses in support of its case.

Meanwhile, Justice Liman was later transferred out of the Lagos division and the case suffered several set backs.

On May 4, 2023, defence counsel Mr Dele Adesina (SAN), had opened the case for the defence. The defence had called three witnesses, including the first defendant (Ikuforiji).

Among others, Ikuforiji had testified how he was being prosecuted on a faceless petition. He had told the court that the instant case arose from a petition written by an unknown person, alleging that he had stolen about N7 billion from the Lagos House of Assembly.

Parties adopted their final addresses on May 17, while the court reserved judgement.

Justice Liman first struck out count one of the charge, on grounds of discrepancies in the timeline .

The court then asked a pertinent question as to what was the substantive law at the time the defendant was charged.

The court held : “Charging a person under a law that was non existent at the time of an alleged offence runs foul of the law. The Money Laundering Prohibition Act of 2004/2011 requires clear evidence of intent and the actual act of laundering money. It is difficult to prove the offence of money laundering without the predicate offence; the prosecution has failed to prove this;

“The prosecution has not proved the offence of money laundering beyond reasonable doubts. Consequently, the defendants are acquitted of all the allegations of money laundering levelled against them in courts two to 54 of the charge,” he said

The defendants were first arraigned on March 1, 2012 before Justice Okechukwu Okeke on a 20-count charge bordering on misappropriation and money laundering. They had each pleaded not guilty to the charges and were granted bails.

The defendants were, however, subsequently re-arraigned before Justice Ibrahim Buba, following a re-assignment of the case.

Justice Buba had granted them bail in the sum of N500 million each with sureties in like sum.

On Sept. 26, 2014, Justice Buba discharged Ikuforiji and his aide of the charges, after upholding a no case submission of the defendants.

Buba had held that the EFCC failed to establish a prima-facie case against them. Dissatisfied with the ruling, the EFCC through its counsel, Mr Godwin Obla (SAN), filed the Notice of Appeal dated Sept. 30, 2014 challenging the decision of the trial court.

Obla had argued that the trial court erred in law when it held that the counts were incompetent because they were filed under Section 1(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004 which was repealed by an Act of 2011.

EFCC further argued that the lower court erred in law when it held that the provisions of Section 1 of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act, 2004 and 2011, only applied to natural persons and corporate bodies other than the Government.

The commission had also submitted that the trial judge erred in law when he held and concluded that the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses supported the innocence of the respondents.

In its judgment, the Lagos Division of the Appeal Court, in November 2016, agreed with the prosecution and ordered a fresh trial of the defendants before another judge.

Following the decision of the Appeal Court, the defendants headed for the Supreme Court, seeking to upturn the ruling of the Appellate court.

Again, in its verdict, the apex court also upheld the decision of the appellate court and ordered that the case be sent back to the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court for reassignment to another judge.

According to the charge, EFCC alleged that the defendants accepted cash payments above the threshold set by the Money Laundering Act, without going through a financial institution.

The commission accused the defendants of conspiring to commit an illegal act of accepting cash payments in the aggregate sum of N338.8 million from the House of Assembly without going through a financial institution.

Ikuforiji was also accused of using his position to misappropriate funds belonging to the Assembly.

The EFCC said that the defendants committed the offence between April 2010 and July 2011.

The offences, according to the EFCC, contravenes the provisions of Sections 15 (1d), 16(1d) and 18 of Money Laundering Act, 2004 and 2011.

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