By Akinwale Akintunde
Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia of a Federal High Court sitting in Lagos yesterday sentenced a former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration Safety Agency, Mr. Raymond Temisan Omatseye, to five years in prison over a N1.5bn contract scam.
The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had arraigned Omatseye in 2010 on the 27-count charge bordering on alleged contract variation, bid rigging and awarding contract above his approval limit.
The anti-graft commission said offence committed by the ex-NIMASA boss violated the country’s public procurement law.
The accused pleaded not guilty to the charge and had been granted bail on self-recognition.
Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia had on March 24, reserved judgment in the trial after lawyers to the prosecution, Chief Godwin Obla (SAN) and the defence, Mr. Edoka Onyeke adopted their final addresses.
The judge said that the date for judgment would be communicated to parties.
Delivering the judgment yesterday, Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia found Omatseye guilty of 24 out of the 27 counts preferred against him.
Omatseye was found guilty of the offence of awarding contracts above stipulated threshold and accordingly convicted on counts 1 to 20,24,25,26 and 27 and was discharged and acquitted of three counts.
Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia held,”In the instant charge, the defendant testified in his evidence in chief that he was released on administrative bail and asked to come back the following day and in his statement, he responded that his threshold for supply was N2.5 million.
“Furthermore, his statement was corroborated by Pw2 and Pw3; Pw2 stated in his testimony that in line with the Public Procurement Act, the Chief Executive officer had a threshold of N2.5 million for goods and N5 million for works.
“From the foregoing, I find that the exhibits PD 16 A-Y are all above the threshold and approved limit of the DG; that means they are all above N2.5 million.
“The testimony of Pw2 and Pw3 that the approved threshold of the defendant on goods and services was N2.5million does not only corroborate the statement of the defendant, but totally lends credence to the threshold limit applicable on the defendant as DG of NIMASA.
“I find that the threshold as contained in exhibit PD 16 Z is applicable to the defendant, setting his limit as N2.5 million for procurement of goods, and N5 million for procurement of services.
“A calm perusal of exhibit PD 16 series reveals that they are repetitive awards of contract for the supply of goods approved by the defendant in his position as DG of NIMASA.
“It is clear that all the contract sum are above the threshold as set out in exhibit PD 16 Z, thereby violating the provisions of section 161 (a) of the Public Procurement Act 2007.
“Accordingly, based on the foregoing before this court, I am satisfied that the prosecution has proved its case against the defendant beyond reasonable doubt, in the face of the offence contained in counts 1-20,24,25,26,and 27.
“I accordingly find him guilty as charged on these counts.
“The second issue is whether the prosecution has proved the offence of bid rigging. It is trite law that the prosecution must prove all the essential ingredients of the offence before it can be said to have been proved beyond reasonable doubt”.
“It is my view that the prosecution has not established the offence of bid rigging against the defendant to secure a conviction on that ground, and I so hold.
“The accused is hereby sentenced to five years imprisonment on counts 1 to 20,24,25,26 and 27 of the charge.
“He is discharged and acquitted of counts 21, 22, and 23 of the charge.
“The term of imprisonment is to run concurrently”.
The defence counsel, Onyeke, had in his address urged the court to discountenance the arguments of prosecution and dismiss the charge against his client.
Counsel to the defendant, Onyeke in his allocutus (mercy plea before sentence) urged the court to tamper justice with mercy, on the ground that the accused was a senior member of the bar who had been suspended from work since 2010.
He urged the court to consider the disposition of the accused who had religiously attended court without fail, since his arraignment, and had prayed the court to show leniency.
Onyeke had in his final written address argued that the prosecution had not been able to proof its case beyond reasonable doubt. he had submitted that out of the 27-count-charge against the accused, 25 dealt strictly with the issue of approval of contract above the threshold while the remaining two were on bid rigging.
According to him, the prosecution failed to proof that exhibit PD 16, which it relied on in dealing with the issue of threshold, got to NIMASA at the time the contracts were awarded.
On the issue of bid rigging, Onyeke argued that by the provision of sections 58 (10) (a) of the Public Procurement Act, the offence of bid rigging cannot be committed by a single individual.
He argued that throughout the length of trial, the prosecution failed to call any witness to prove the alleged collusion of the accused to commit bid rigging. Onyeke urged the court to discharge and acquit his Client.
In adopting his written address, Obla, prosecution counsel expressed confidence that the 27-count charge against the defendant was proven beyond all reasonable doubt and prayed the court to find the defendant guilty of all the charges.
Obla, who had called three witnesses in the course of the trial noted that the 25 counts of the charges preferred against Omatseye dwelt on the approval of contract above the threshold level and the other two counts dealt with bid rigging.
He argued that contrary to existing regulations, contract was awarded to a company that was the highest bidder and which was not even pre-qualified for the contract.
Obla submitted that the facts of the case spoke volumes and urged the court to convict the defendant.
Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia, had after listening to the submissions of both sides fixed May 9, 2016 for judgment. It was later moved to May 20, 2016.