Hajj Pilgrimage Scam: Court Sentenced Man to 10 Years’ Imprisonment

Funke Olaode

For a decade, they all looked up to the judiciary, which is often seen as the only arbiter of the common man. Hope was lost, expectations dashed, and faith shattered. It was a long walk to victory for 46 Hajj pilgrimage hopefuls who were duped exactly 10 years ago when they wanted to embark on a journey to Mecca. The journey was aborted as they entered the hand of a “con man.”

But last week, the law of the land took its full course and justice was served. Justice Oyindamola Ogala of the Ikeja Division of the Lagos High Court sentenced the culprit, Alhaji Sharafadeen Irorun, to 10 years’ imprisonment for scamming Muslim pilgrims out of their money to the tune of N7,500,000.

Before his sentencing, the trial judge found Irorun guilty on April 29, 2024, on four counts out of a 12-count charge bordering on obtaining by false pretence and stealing brought against him by the Lagos government.

Ogala held that the prosecution had sufficiently established that the defendant and others at large are a criminal group and convicted Irorun on counts one, two, five and six.

She said, “The defendant and others who are at large are a criminal group who unwittingly dispossessed innocent persons of their money under the pretext of helping them undergo the Hajj pilgrimage.”

The judge convicted him on the provision of section 312, 285 (9) (b) of the Criminal Laws of Lagos State 2011.

However, while sentencing the convict, the judge held that the convict obtained by false presence and stealing.  She therefore sentenced him to 10 years imprisonment. The judge ordered the prison term to commence from June 6, 2022.

During the trial, the prosecution counsel, Mr O. A. Azeez, called three witnesses, including one of the nominal complainants who contributed the money that the third prosecution witness (PW3), Alhaji Lukman Abdulkareem, gave to the defendant.

The judge found that PW1 and PW2 had no direct involvement with the defendant but supported the evidence of PW3, who was involved with the defendant and whose evidence she called “succinct and direct.”

She said, “It is also clear to the court that the evidence of PW1 and PW2 are fair, consistent to the case and indeed corroborate the evidence of the PW3.”

However, the judge acquitted Irorun of the other eight counts in the charge against him after she stated that the prosecution had insufficient evidence to convict him.

Justice Ogala said the PW3 told the court that 46 people, including himself, had contributed money and paid N7,500,000 to the defendant to procure forms from the Lagos State Muslim Pilgrims Board in 2014.

She said that PW2 gave evidence that he gave N800,000 to PW3 to help him pay for the Hajj pilgrimage for eight people after their original arrangement to secure seats failed.

She said that the PW3 told the court that he discovered he had been scammed after he requested officials to give him the bag gifts meant for the pilgrims and was told that their names were not on the list.

The PW3 told the court that he reported the incident to the police, who tracked down the defendant to his hometown residence in Osun. There, they discovered other fake Lagos State Muslim Pilgrims Board forms.

Ogala noted that the defendant’s counsel, S.M. Olatunji, told the court that the prosecution did not bring the Investigating Police Officer on the case to the court to give evidence.

She said Olatunji told the court that the defendant did not take money from the claimants.

The judge told the court that she had considered the evidence and held that the prosecution had established that the defendant was part of a criminal group that scams people out of their money under the pretext of pilgrimage.

She acquitted the convict on eight counts of the charge and said the prosecution provided insufficient evidence for her to convict the defendant on them.

Court Summons Church Over Encroachment of Asade Family Land

Funke Olaode

A Lagos State High Court in Ikeja has ordered the Incorporated Trustees of the Victorious Army Ministries International to appear before it to answer a land dispute case involving the Asade Royal Family of Ogba, Lagos.

Justice Raliat Adebiyi made this order following a motion ex parte brought pursuant to Order 9, Rule 5 of the High Court Civil Procedure Rules 2019 by Prince Oyewole Asade and Prince Olabisi Asade.

The Asade family had filed an application seeking the leave of court to serve a writ of summons and all other originating processes on the church by substituted means, posting at their church premises, having failed to accept service.

In the writ of summon, the family is seeking a declaration that they are the owners of all the pieces or parcels of land located and situated at Plot 22, Acme Road, Agidingbi, Ikeja, Lagos State.

A declaration that the Asade family are entitled to the statutory right of occupancy for all that piece or parcel of land located and situated at Plot 22, Acme Road, Agidingbi, Ikeja.

Also, the family, as the claimants, is seeking an order of perpetual Injunction to restrain the church, its servants, agents, privies, assigns, representatives, and whosoever derived title from them from trespassing or further trespassing on the disputed land, including an order for possession of all that piece or parcel of land known, located and situated at Plot 22, Acme Road, Agidingbi, Ikeja.

In their statement of claims, the family relied on the Supreme Court’s decision in suit No SC 129/1984, wherein Justice Andrews Obaseki affirmed that Agidingbi village and all the farmlands surrounding it lie within Asade’s Ogba land.

In their statement of claim, they averred that there was no record of any sale, assignment, transfer, or lease of the said land from their record to the church, and they did not know how the church got into their land.

The family’s lawyer, Otunba Remi Adeoye, also noted that despite serving the originating processes, the church didn’t file its defence to the claim within the time allowed by the court’s rules.

According to the lawyer, the church deliberately failed to file any process in court with the intention of delaying the case.

Total Employer Bag Four-Year Imprisonment for Stealing

Funke Olaode

The Lagos Special Offences Court has sentenced Idris Bakare, a Total contract worker, to four years’ imprisonment for stealing.

Justice Olubunmi Abike-Fadipe found him guilty as charged by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), convicted and sentenced him.

EFCC had arraigned Bakare on a four-count charge of offences bordering on stealing contrary and dishonestly converted to his use, totalling N35,672,845.00.

The anti-graft commission stated that Bakare, together with Dauda Adegboyega and a company, Zuraai Gold Ventures, alleged of dishonestly converted to their use of the money (N35,672,845) belonging to British Airways between October 23 and December 31, 2019, in Lagos.

The defendant pleaded guilty to the charge.

Following his guilty plea, the EFCC counsel, Ms. Zainab Atiku, called an EFCC investigative officer to review the facts.

The EFCC investigative officer, Mojibola Adekunbi, told the court that the commission received a petition from British Airways against Total Nigeria Plc and Asharam Energy on October 4, 2022.

The petition alleged that Total Plc, British Airways Engineer, and Sahara Energy conspired to invoice Aircraft Jet A1 fuel above what had been uploaded to the British aircraft for N363,780,248.53k, an ongoing practice since 2018.

EFCC operative told the court that the investigation revealed that the convict was a contract staff member of Total Plc, a fueller who dispensed Jet A1 fuel via bowser vehicle with hose to the aircraft.

She noted that the convict conspired with others by selling an amount of Jet A1 fuel meant for British Aircraft to one Dauda Sulaiman, which was confirmed by the buyer through a series of transactions involving money in the convict’s account.

“That the convict received the total sum of N40,676,000 only from the buyer, Dauda Sulaiman being the proceed of sales of the stolen Jet A1 fuel,” she stated.

Therefore, Atiku tendered a petition from British Airways to the EFCC, statements of the defendant, a statement of account of Zenith Bank of the defendant, and a N4 million Access Bank Cheque draft to the Commission during the investigation as evidence.

Abike-Fadipe admitted them as exhibits P1, P2, and P3, respectively and convicted him as charged.

The court, however, gave the convict the opportunity to address the court. Bakare pleaded for mercy and promised never to engage in fraud again. He also apologised to British Airways and his employee, Total Nigeria Plc.

Also, the convict counsel, Olufemi Bisuga, asked the court to temper justice with mercy. He said he apologised to British Airways, his employer, through the principal Total Plc. He also apologised to Nigeria and his family as he noted that he had learnt his lesson.

However, following his conviction, EFCC counsel prayed the court to impose the provision of section 297 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Law of Lagos State regarding restitution to victims of the crime.

Justice Abike-Fadipe sentenced him to one year in prison on each of the four counts with an option of a fine of N1 million on each count.

The court further ordered him to pay the balance of N36,676,000 over three years, commencing from July 2024, and N4 million refunded to be given back to British Airways. The terms are to run concurrently.

Complainant Urges Lagos Attorney General to Expedite Forgery Trial of Lawyers

Wale Igbintade

The Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice in Lagos, Lawal Pedro (SAN), has been urged to proceed without delay with the criminal charge filed against two lawyers and a businessman before Justice Sherifat Sonaike of the Tafawa Balewa Square Division of the Lagos High Court.

The defendants in the charge are Adebayo Akeju of Adon Law Chambers, Ademola Owolabi of Ademola Adetokunbo & Co., and Alex Ochonogor of Bluecrest Homes Limited.

In a letter written by Jimoh Lasis (SAN), Chukwudi Adiukwu (SAN) and Anthony Omaghomi, counsel to the complaint, Dr. Eze Obidigwe, they urged the commissioner for justice to resist the temptation to discontinue the prosecution as requested by one of the suspects.

Akeju, who is charged with alleged forgery and damage to property alongside the other two, had on April 25, 2024, written a petition to the attorney general, asking him to stop their prosecution in an attempt to mislead him into believing that it is a malicious charge, without even showing up in court to take his plea.

In a petition published online titled ‘Application for Administrative Review of the Legal Advice on the Referenced Matter’, Akeju claimed that the police investigation report that resulted in the advice to try them was inaccurate.

He also claimed that he carried out his client’s instructions, Major Hamza Al-Mustapha (retd.), the land’s original owner.

According to him, Al-Mustapha had lost his original Certificate of Occupancy and signed a memorandum of loss for him to dispose of the property.

But Al-Mustapha in a letter to the permanent secretary at the Governor’s Office, Lagos State Land Bureau, Alausa, dated May 22, 2024, said he had sold and transferred the original Certificate of Occupancy of the property long before Akeju raised a memorandum of loss of CofO suo moto (on his own), which he used in selling off the property again.

He said, “I have not misplaced nor lost the Certificate of Occupancy. Furthermore, I have never sworn an affidavit stating its lost, nor have I filed a missing police report concerning this document, as well as never caused any public service announcement in any newspaper about misplacing my original C Of O. Hence, kindly disregard any assertion that contradicts this position.”

However, the complainant, Eze, a dental surgeon practising in the United States of America, asked the attorney general to ignore the petition and exercise discretion in favour of the public interest and the interest of justice by directing the DPP to prosecute the suspects.

“Our client is convinced that the investigation carried out by the police and the conclusion reached is accurate, i.e. that there is a prima facie case of conspiracy, forgery, illegal encroachment, and contempt against Akeju, Owolabi and Ochonogor.

“Ochonogor is in active violation of a court order and was facing a nine-count charge number ID/120C/2012 between FRN V. Mahmud Tukur. Ochonogor and Akeju have been served and have refused to appear in court, making a mockery of the judicial system,” said the lawyers.

The lawyers stressed that they recognised the unquestionable discretion that the office of the Attorney-General of Lagos State enjoys by virtue of Section 211 of the 1999 Constitution in exercising its powers to institute or discontinue criminal proceedings.

They added, “This pre-eminent and incontestable position is not subject to any control (except for the reaction of your appointer). However, in the exercise of this discretion, regard shall be had to public interest, the interest of justice, and the need to prevent the abuse of the legal process. The filing of the charge against Mr. Akeju was preceded by a thorough police investigation that lasted over a year, which established a case of conspiracy, forgery, and damage to property against him and others.

“This was followed by a detailed review by the office of the DPP, an arm of your esteemed office, who came up with advice that there is a prima facie case against these persons. Would it serve the public good to discontinue this charge filed by the DPP?”

The lawyers pointed out that it would meet the justice of the case “if Mr. Akeju is advised to go to court rather than pursue this alarmist cry.”

They added, “As a lawyer, one would have expected that he would gladly appear in court to defend himself of all charges, just as he claims he is doing in the civil case. What exactly is he afraid of when he has countless times said he is innocent? Subjecting this whole allegation to trial would be in the interest of justice for all parties involved. The legal principle on presumption of innocence until proven guilty remains sacrosanct in our jurisprudence.

“He should, therefore, stand his trial, supply the gamut of the defence that he has alluded to that he has and allow the prosecution discharge the burden of proof.”

Oil Firm Files $1.1m Suit Against SunTrust Bank over Alleged Breach of Contract

Wale Igbintade

An international offshore oilfield support and solutions company, Caracal Oil and Gas Services Limited, has instituted a $1,140,000 suit against SunTrust Bank Nigeria Limited over an alleged breach of contract.

Joined as co-defendant in the ensuing legal hostility is the Central Bank of Nigeria CBN.

In a statement of claim accompanied by the written statement on oath of the chief compliance officer of the company, Mr. David Ibukun, and filed before the Lagos Division of the Federal High Court by a Lagos lawyer, Mrs. Soibi Ovia, the deponent avers that the plaintiff (Caracal Oil and Gas Services Limited) is one of the customers of  SunTrust bank and maintains both naira and domiciliary accounts with the bank which the plaintiff had fully funded and maintained in good standing over the years up until January 20, 2023, when her account was debited pursuant to the irrevocable standing order.

She stated that on or about January 10, 2023, the company executed an irrevocable standing payment order in favour of one of her international lending partners.

The ISPO was executed in respect to its USD account domiciled with the bank.

According to the terms of the ISPO, the bank was mandated to credit its International lending partner’s (Trade Credebt) account domiciled with Barclays Bank Ireland Plc with the balance standing to the credit of the company as of the 25th day of every month or the next working day if the same falls on a weekend.

As of January 20, 2023, the account was credited $256,670.00 with the narration “Inward Telex Transfer: Supply of Vessel/CARACAL OILB/ONNPC/FIRST.” Subsequently, the account was debited on January 25, 2023, for $383,290.12.

The $383,290.12 debited from the account was to trigger the release of $3,000,000.00 and finance the mobilisation to Nigeria of the company’s PSV Helios 289 vessel situated at Carena Shipyard in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, as well as a number of the company’s projects, amongst others; to the knowledge of the bank.

Subsequently, on January 25, 2023, the bank issued a Telex to the company, supposedly evidencing the alleged transfer of $383,290.12 to its Trade Credebt account domiciled with Barclays Bank Ireland Plc.

Upon receipt of the Telex, the company informed Trade Credebt, her international lending partner, of the completion of the transaction. However, she was thrown into confusion when Trade Credebt informed her that it never received credit for $383,290.12 allegedly transferred by the bank or any sum at all.

Consequently, the plaintiff is seeking a declaration that SunTrust’s failure to credit the designated account of Trade Credebt Limited, the company’s lending partner, with $383,290.12, in line with the ISPO dated January 10, 2023, despite having debited the company’s account, constitutes a breach of contract between the company and the bank.

“A declaration that the detention by the bank of the sum of $523,793.76 standing to the credit of the company in her account from 27th January 2023 till 27th March 2023 constitutes a breach of contract between the company and the bank.

“A declaration that the detention by the bank of the sum of and$523,793.76 standing to the credit of the company in her account from 27th January 2023 till 27th March 2023 constitutes a breach of fiduciary duty owed to the company by the bank,” said the court document.

It added, “An order directing the bank to pay the company the sum of $1,140,000, being special and aggravated damages for economic loss, loss of business and reputational damage suffered by the company as a result of the breach of contract, fiduciary duty and neglect of the bank, respectively.”

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