A Sokoto State High Court has discharged and acquitted former Governor Attahiru Bafarawa of the alleged N13 billion fraud charges brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
Salihu Maibuhu Gummi and Nasiru Dalhatu Bafarawa, younger brother to the PDP presidential aspirant, were also discharged and acquitted.
Justice Bello Abbas noted that the evidence advanced by the prosecuting counsel lacked substance, was contradictory and imaginary, and therefore did not substantially prove the case of fraud against the plaintiff.
Bafarawa, who was governor of Sokoto State from 1999 to 2007, is accused of fraudulent transactions, and the case has lasted over eight years.
The former governor, with 17 others, faced a 144-count charge in 2009. The charges were however reduced to 34 with some of the accused dropped for lack of evidence against them, others granted state pardon and some deceased.
Justice Abbas said the count charges had dropped to 22 with only three persons standing trial.
According to him, the accused persons were discharged and acquitted on grounds that the case could not be established beyond reasonable doubt.
Bafarawa said justice would always prevail when your hands are clean, quoting President Muhammadu Buhari that “Bafarawa was not a thief when they arrested him in Abuja over the issue”.
He wondered why he was accused of misappropriating N13 billion when he left N12 billion in the state coffers, another N500 million in the account of the Sultan Muhammadu Maccido Institute for Quranic and General Studies, and an additional N1 billion iron rods investment for the state.
“I call on President Muhammadu Buhari and the EFCC to investigate these facts so that Nigerians will be convinced that the fight against corruption is not biased,” he added.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) described the ruling as “shocking and unacceptable”.
A statement by the Head of Media and Publicity, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, said the agency believes the judge erred in law.
The statement reads: “In the course of the trial, EFCC called nine witnesses and presented several documents that were admitted in evidence, while the defendants called only six witnesses. Surprisingly, Justice Abbas discharged and acquitted the accused of all counts on the premise that the evidence presented by the prosecution were “mere hearsay”, and there were “no documentary evidence” to back up the claim of witnesses.
“The Commission believes that the judge erred in law, and has mandated its counsel to appeal the ruling at the Court of Appeal. The judgment of Justice Abbas is the climax in the series of twists and turns that the trial had witnessed over the last nine years or so.
“The defendants, with 12 others, were first arraigned on 47 counts on December 16, 2009, before the Sokoto State High Court; they all pleaded not guilty to the charges.
“Soon after their arraignment, the defendants filed a motion asking the court to quash the charges against them. The said motion was dismissed by both the trial court and the court of appeal.
“On September 29, 2011, the prosecution filed an amended 44-count charge against the accused persons. But while the case was on, one of the accused, Abdullahi Bida, died while Aisha Mohammed Binji was discharged following a nolle prosequi application filed by then Attorney-General of Sokoto State.”
The EFCC also faulted the state pardon granted five of the defendants.
The statement added: “Even more shocking is the wholesale pardon of five of the defendants by Governor Aminu Tambuwal. Those pardoned by Tambuwal are Alhaji “Tukur Alkali, who is the Commissioner for Animal Health and Fisheries Development; Commissioner for Home Affairs Isa Achida; Chairman, Governing Board, National Commission for Colleges of Education Alhaji Maigari Dingyadi; the member representing Isa constituency at the House of Assembly, Habibu Modachi; and a Permanent Secretary Isah Bello. The hitherto five suspects were arraigned on a 22-count charge of conspiracy, criminal misappropriation, theft and receiving of stolen funds.
“On December 16, 2017, the prosecution closed its case against the defendants who, through their counsel, filed an application for no-case submission which was subsequently dismissed by the court on the January 31, 2018.
“Justice Abbas, on May 8, reserved July 4 for judgment. However, when the case came up, counsel to the two parties was informed that the judge was out of the state on an official assignment.
They subsequently agreed to return to court on July 31 for the judgment.”