Christian Nwosu, an officer of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), who confessed to the court that he received N30 million from former Minister of Petroleum, Diezani Alison-Madueke, to rig the 2015 general elections, has agreed to forfeit to the Federal Government the landed property he bought with the bribe.
In a plea bargain agreement between Mr. Nwosu and the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), the INEC official, who was facing trial for his crime, agreed to relinquish to the Nigerian government a huge parcel of land measuring 100 feet by 80 feet. Details of the agreement indicated that the forfeited land is located at Okotomi Layout, Obodogwugwu Quarters, in Okpanam, Delta State. Mr. Nwosu had purchased the land with the money he received from Ms. Alison-Madueke for agreeing to manipulate the 2015 elections in favor of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
The defendant also agreed to forfeit to the Federal Government the sum of N5 million EFCC investigators had recovered from him during the anti-graft agency’s investigation.
Under the plea agreement, Mr. Nwosu also undertook to pay a fine of N500,000. However, Justice Mohammed Idris of the Federal High Court in Ikoyi, Lagos, raised the fine to N10 million, stating that the higher fine was in keeping with the stipulation of the act under which the INEC officer was charged.
Said Justice Idris: “I have read carefully the plea bargain agreement and I have reviewed the content of same. By Section 270 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, a plea bargain agreement is allowed as in this case, wherein the first defendant has provided relevant information to aid the prosecution of this case...it appears to me that by the above provisions of the ACJA, under a plea bargain agreement, the appropriate sentence to be recommended should be within the appropriate range of punishment stipulated for the offense charged.
“The first defendant was found guilty of an offense contrary to sections 1(a) and 16(b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Amended Act, 2012 and punishable under Section 16(2)(b) of the same Act.
“Section 16(2)(b) of the Act provides as follows: ‘A person who commits an offense under Section subsection 1 paragraph A is liable, on conviction, to imprisonment or a prison term not less than two years or a fine of not less than N10m…The provisions of Section 16(2)(b) is clear and unambiguous...It is for the above reason that I find the proposal in paragraph of the plea bargain agreement, filed on 5th April, 2017, inadequate.”
After the judge’s decision, Mr. Nwosu’s defense lawyer, Adaku Mbama, pleaded with the court for a short adjournment to enable her to discuss with her client whether he would be willing to pay the higher fine.
Justice Idris remarked that the convict was at liberty to renounce his assent to the plea bargain based on the court’s decision to impose a stiffer punishment on him than the one agreed between him and the EFCC.
EFCC prosecutor Rotimi Oyedepo reminded the judge that the anti-graft agency had already recovered a parcel of land worth N25m that the convict acquired with his bribe, adding that Mr. Nwosu had also refunded the balance of N5m.
Despite Mr. Oyedepo’s submission, Justice Idris ruled that his court could not go against the law, adding that if the prosecutor was sympathetic, the only option available was to amend the charge sheet and indict Mr. Nwosu under a section of the Act that prescribes a lesser fine. In response, Mr. Oyedepo stated that he had looked at the law, adding that Section 16(2)(b) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act prescribed a lower punishment.
Following the developments, Ms. Mbama pleaded for time to discuss his options. In arguing for an adjournment, she told the court that her client was “right now between the deep blue see and the devil of N10m fine and two years imprisonment. Kindly give us time, I will like to speak with the first defendant. We request a date for that sir.”
Justice Idris subsequently adjourned the case till May 4, 2017.
On April 5, 2017, the EFCC had arraigned Mr. Nwosu alongside two other INEC officials, Yisa Adedoyin and Tijani Bashir, on allegations that they took a bribe of N264.88m from former Petroleum Minister, Alison-Madueke, in order to compromise the 2015 elections. Mr. Nwosu, who was a director and administrative secretary at INEC, reportedly pocketed N30m out of the bribe. EFCC prosecutors said Ms. Alison Madueke gave the defendants the bribe on March 27, 2015.
The prosecution told the presiding judge that the defendants’ offenses violated Section 18(a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) (Amendment) Act 2012 and were punishable under sections 15(3) and 16(2)(b) of the same Act.
While his co-defendants pleaded not guilty, Mr. Nwosu entered a guilty plea. Mr. Oyedepo, the EFCC’s lead prosecutor, told the court that Mr. Nwosu had made restitution and had entered a plea bargain with the anti-graft agency.