Justice E.A Obile of the Federal High Court, Calabar, Cross River State on Tuesday convicted and sentenced Paul Etim and Okon Edet Okon to six years imprisonment each without an option of fine, on a two-count charge of illegal dealing in petroleum products preferred against them by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The convicts were arrested on November 27, 2011 by officers of the Nigerian Navy while operating a dug-out wooden boat loaded with 120 drums of Automotive Gas Oil (AGO) without an appropriate licence. On December 18, 2011, they were handed to the EFCC for further investigation Upon their arraignment on January 24, 2012, they pleaded not guilty to the charges. While trial was ongoing, two of the accused persons (Imeh Effiong and Uduak Okon) were reported ill and died of AIDS at the Oron Hospital, Akwa- Ibom State.
Their death was confirmed by the prosecution. At the resumed hearing of the matter on Tuesday, prosecution counsel, U.R Ewoh told the court that on December 9, 2015, the defence counsel informed him that four of the accused persons (Uwen Ante, Happier Ita Etim, Edet Okon Usukunya and Happy Idaoko) had a boat mishap and drowned while traveling back after one of their trials. He said he was served with their death certificates obtained from the National Population Commission and affidavit of facts. He disclosed that the prosecution is carrying out investigation to ascertain the claim.
However, Ewoh prayed the court that the names of the four accused persons claimed to be dead be expunged from the charge to enable prosecution continue with its case. The defence counsel, Chuks Alilonu did not oppose the application made by the prosecution, but informed the court of his clients’ decision to change their plea. The charge was read to them and they pleaded guilty. Based on their plea, Justice Obile found them guilty and sentenced them to six years imprisonment each without an option of fine. The sentence takes effect from their day of arraignment: 24 January, 2012. The judge also ordered that the wooden boat recovered from the convicts be released to the Nigerian Navy for destruction.