By Olalekan Awojodu, Abuja
Justice Yusuf Halilu of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), sitting at Maitama, Abuja, has convicted a former member of the House of Representatives, Honourable Chuma Nzeribe.
The former Reps member was dragged before the court by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on a four-count criminal charges bordering on false pretence, forgery and using forged document as genuine and cheating by impersonation.
The former federal lawmaker was alleged to have sometimes in March, 2013 in Abuja had in his possession 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 People’s 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 judgment in the matter in which the prosecution called five witnesses, while the defendant testified for himself, Justice Halilu held that to achieve conviction in a criminal matter, the prosecution must prove its case beyond reasonable double.
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.
He held that the convict indeed made false pretence and guilty of forgery and using same to be genuine, adding that Nzeribe indeed cheated by impersonation.
Halilu wondered 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 federal 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 arrest Nzeribe and bring him to court to be sentenced appropriately.
Earlier, in view of Nzeribe’s absence in court for the judgment, the prosecuting counsel, A. A. Maryam, had 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 counsel for the convict, who claimed that the court cannot deliver judgment in the absence of the defendant, saying that this was the position of the law.
Ruling on this, the judge held that Nzeribe has misconducted the minute he was served the hearing notice that judgment 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 judgment, adding that the provision that defendant must be present in court was only to give him fair hearing.
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