Court of Appeal Reverses Ex-NIMASA DG, Omatseye’s Conviction

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Davidson Iriekpen

The Lagos Division of the Court of Appeal thursday overturned the five-year conviction of a former Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA) Director-General, Temisan Raymond Omatseye, for alleged contract splitting.
The appellate court discharged and acquitted Omatseye of all the 24-counts charge upon which he was convicted at the lower court.

It set aside the May 20, 2016, judgment of the Federal High Court, Lagos, which convicted Omatseye on a charge bordering on bid rigging and contract splitting.

Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia had found Omatseye guilty in a N1.5 billion contract scam following his prosecution by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).

She ruled that he awarded contracts above the stipulated N2.5million threshold and, accordingly, convicted him in 24 out of 27-counts charge but discharged and acquitted him of three others.

But the appellate court held yesterday, among others, that the trial court did not properly evaluate the evidence.
The court, presided over by Justice Yargata Nimpar, resolved all five grounds of appeal in favour of the appellant.
Other members of the three-man panel were Justice Adejumo Obaseki and Justice Abraham Georgewill.

In reaching its decision, the court considered four issues for determination, including whether under Section 16(1)(A) of the Public Procurement Act 2007, approval for spending over the threshold constituted an offence.
Justice Nimpar, who read the judgment, considered whether the trial court properly evaluated the evidence.
She said: “I found that it did not.”

Nimpar added: “The long and short of it is that, the appeal succeeds. The prosecution should not ride roughshod over the Constitution.

“The judiciary will do the war on corruption more harm by declaring someone a criminal, where no offence has been committed.

“I find merit in the appeal. The conviction is hereby set aside and the appellant is hereby discharged and acquitted.”

The appellant’s kinsmen, who were in court in their numbers, burst out in jubilation after the judgment was delivered.

The former NIMASA boss in the appeal by his lawyer, Edoka Onyeke, argued, among others, that he was persecuted and not prosecuted.

He said although contract splitting existed in law, approval above threshold did not.
Omatseye accused Justice Ofili-Ajumogobia of jettisoning an exonerating January 23, 2013 letter from the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), which it admitted as evidence in court.

According to him, the letter stated that the 27-count charge brought under sections of the procurement Act that deals with administrative breaches rather than real offences.

Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia’s judgment had been touted as the first major high profile conviction since President Muhammadu Buhari began his anti-corruption crusade.