By Yemi Oyeyemi, Abuja
A former House of Representatives member and Governorship Aspirant in Anambra State, Hon Chuma Nzeribe, was on Monday in Abuja convicted on the 4- count criminal charges brought against him by the Federal Government.
The former federal lawmaker was convicted by a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory FCT in Abuja on impersonation, possession of Federal Government documents, and using same to fraudulently acquire land at Maitama District of Abuja.
Nzeribe could, however, not be sentenced to prison following his absence in court when judgment in the criminal charges against him was delivered.
Justice Halilu Yusuf while delivering judgment said he would reserve the sentence till the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) operatives and police arrest the convict and bring him before him for deserved justice.
The Judge ordered the the land in Maitama acquired with the forged documents be taken over by the owner, Mr Ishaya Madi, with immediate effect.
Nzeribe had stunned the court for the the third time for his absence without any cogent reason.
Instead, Nzeribe wrote the EFCC a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) surrendering the land he fraudulently aquired to the real owner, Ishaya Madi
When the EFCC’S lawyer, Maryam Aminu Ahmed, produced the letter personally signed by Nzeribe, the Judge only took judicial notice of it.
However, Nzeribe’s new cousel, Victor Eden, informed the court that he was not in the knowledge of the discussion that led to the issuance of the MoU and the surrendering of the land in dispute to the nominal complainants.
The former federal lawmaker was alleged to have sometimes in March, 2013 in Abuja have 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.
Justice 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 Maryam Aminu Ahmed 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, Victor Eden 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.