The Court of Appeal, sitting in Ibadan, on Thursday, discharged and acquitted a former Governor of Oyo State, Chief Adebayo Alao-Akala, over an N11.5B fraud charge levelled against him by the EFCC.
The case began nine years ago.
Alao-Akala was acquitted along with a former Deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Sen. Hosea Agboola and a businessman, Mr Femi Babalola.
Agboola is the Chairman of Advisory Council to Gov. Seyi Makinde of Oyo State.
He served as Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters during Alao-Akala’s administration between 2007 and 2011.
Babalola owns Pentagon Engineering Services, the firm that executed some contracts during the period.
The three-man panel of Appeal court justices was headed by Justice Jimi Bada, with Justices Abba Muhammed and Abdulazeez Waziri as members.
In their unanimous judgment, the justices said the lower court erred by ordering the defendants to enter defence for the three counts because the prosecution, led by EFCC, failed to establish a prima facie case against them.
While Bada read the judgment for Alao-Akala, Muhammed and Waziri read the judgments for Babalola and Agboola respectively.
The three defendants/appellants were physically present in the court during the judgment.
Counsel to EFCC, Dr Benedict Ubi, however, refused to speak with newsmen after the judgment.
In his own reaction, Lead Counsel to Alao-Akala and Babalola, Chief Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), represented by Abiodun Ogunjinmi, described the judgment as “beautiful”.
“We really appreciate and thank God for giving us a beautiful judgment today.
“The justices did a marvellous job. This case started in 2012, which was about nine years ago but ended well today.
“The appellant, Alao-Akala and Babalola were all finally discharged and acquitted,” Ogunjimi said.
Alao-Akala and Babalola, in their reactions, also commended the judiciary for the judgment.
“I’ve always relied on the judiciary as the last hope of the common man like me.
“So, we thank God for everything. God has settled everything, and so, let us forget about the number of years the case took,” the former governor said.
Alao-Akala and the two others were arraigned before an Oyo State High Court, sitting in Ibadan in 2012 by EFCC on an 11-count charge, bordering on N11.5 billion fraud.
The charge comprised conspiracy, awarding contract without budgetary provisions, obtaining by false pretence, acquiring property with money derived from illegal acts and concealing the ownership of such property, among others.
EFCC’s counsel had told the lower court that when Alao-Akala was the governor, he awarded a road contract worth N8.5billion between 2007 and 2009 to Babalola’s firm, Pentagon Engineering Services.
Ubi alleged further that the firm handled the contract on behalf of the 33 local government areas of the state without budgetary provision.
He said that the former governor ordered the supply of drilling machines on behalf of the 33 local government areas at the cost of N3.5 billion.
The counsel also said that Alao-Akala conspired with Ayoola to withdraw N2.9 billion from the Joint State and Local Government Account.
He further told the court that the former governor illegally acquired some property at Old Bodija Road, Off Rotimi Williams Road in Ibadan, when he was governor.
The EFCC counsel stated that the alleged offences contravened section 22 (4) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act and Section 1 (18) of the Advanced Fee Fraud Act.
The three defendants, however, filed a no-case submission after EFCC had closed its case before the court.
The trial court, presided over by Justice Muniru Owolabi, struck out eight out of the 11 count-charge against Alao-Akala and the two others.
Owolabi then ordered Alao-Akala to enter defence for the remaining three counts, bordering on conspiracy, obtaining money by false pretence and award of contract without budgetary provision.
He, however, discharged the former governor on the count of acquiring property with money derived from an illegal act and concealing ownership of such property.
The judge said the witnesses called by the prosecutor failed to link evidence to the acquired property, adding that EFCC also failed to prove genuine ownership of the property.
Dissatisfied with the judgment by the lower court, Alao-Akala and the two other defendants headed for the Court of Appeal.