N9bn Contract Scam: Court Frees Bankole
An Abuja Federal High Court on Friday discharged and acquitted a former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Dimeji Bankole, after finding that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission was not able to prove a 16-count criminal charge, bordering on a N9billion contract scam, filed against him.
Justice Evoh Chukwu, in a ruling on a no-case-submission filed by Bankole after the prosecution had called its witnesses against him in the trial, held that there was no evidence linking the former Speaker to the alleged offences.
The EFCC had accused Bankole of masterminding a contract fraud, involving the purchase of two Range Rover bullet-proof vehicles; two Range Rover vehicles (without bullet proof); three Mercedes Benz S-600 cars; 400 units of DSTV systems; 400 television sets; 800 units of desktop computers; 100 units of Sharp Digital Copier, and 400 units of HP LaserJet 2600N.
The addresses presented by the companies, which executed the contracts for the procurement of the items turned out to be false, as well as other information provided in their profiles.
The anti-graft agency alleged that most of the purchases were contrary to Sections 17 to 56 of the Public Procurement Act No.14 of 2007, and punishable under Section 58(5) of the same Act.
With a private lawyer, Mr. Festus Keyamo, prosecuting the case, Bankole was arraigned over the 16-count charge, to which he pleaded not guilty.
However, the trial proceeded with the prosecution calling six witnesses, including officials of the National Assembly, to testify in the case.
After the prosecution had called its last witness, Bankole, through his lawyer, Mr. O. Akoni, SAN, filed an application for a no-case-submission, asking the court to acquit and discharge him on the grounds that the EFCC had not established a prima facie case against him.
Ruling on the no-case-submission on Friday, Justice Chukwu stressed that, in order to prove the case against the former Speaker, the EFCC must prove that the “accused person (Bankole) colluded with the supplier or contractor to supply at inflated prices.”
He held that the anti-graft agency was unable to prove such.
The judge further noted that witnesses brought by the prosecution all admitted that Bankole was not the chief accounting officer of the House.
Justice Chukwu added that all the witnesses also admitted that the contract for the purchase of the controversial items followed due process.
He said, “All the witnesses told the court that the procedure for the award of the contract followed due process. None of them showed that the accused person entered into a collusive agreement with the contractors or their agents.
“The accused person does not own any of the companies.”
The judge held that the prosecution did not provide any evidence to prove that Bankole benefited from the contract.
“In the totality of the evidence of the prosecution there is nothing to show that the accused person acted with intention to defraud – there is no evidence to show that he selected the companies that were awarded the contract.
“There is no evidence to show that any of the companies were fronting for the accused person.
“There is no evidence to show that the accused person was a director or a shareholder in any of the companies.
“The prosecution has not disclosed any intent to defraud to warrant the accused person to be ordered to enter his defence.
“All the witnesses stated that the Speaker was not the chief accounting officer and that the award of the contracts followed due process,” the judge said.
Discharging the former Speaker, Justice Chukwu said, “It would amount to inquisition to ask the accused person to enter his defence in this case.
“The no-case-submission succeeds and the accused person is discharged and acquitted of all the 16 counts in the charge.”
Bankole, who was in the dock at the commencement of the ruling, emerged from the courtroom as a free man.
It was the second time a court would discharge and acquit the former Speaker of criminal charges filed against him by the EFCC.
On January 31, 2012, a Federal Capital Territory High Court presided by Justice S. B. Belgore, had freed Bankole and his former Deputy, Ibrahim Nafada, of a criminal charged involving the alleged mismanagement of N38million.