The court of Appeal sitting in Ibadan, on Thursday discharged and acquitted the former Governor of Oyo State, Otunba Adebayo Alao-Akala of the over the N11.5 billion corruption charges leveled against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The court further discharged and acquitted a former deputy Chief Whip of the Senate, Senator Hosea Agboola, who is currently the Chairman of the Governor’s Advisory Council to Governor Seyi Makinde, and a business mogul, Mr Femi Babalola, popularly known as Jogor.
Agboola served as Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters during Alao-Akala’s tenure as the governor of Oyo State between 2007 and 2011 while Babalola owns an engineering firm, Pentagon Engineering Services, that executed some contracts during the former governor’s administration.
The trial presided over by a three-man panel led by Justice Jimi Olukayode Bada and comprising Justices Abba Muhammed and Abdulazeez Waziri, lasted 11 years.
The trio were arraigned by the EFCC on an 11 count-charge bordering on conspiracy, awarding contract without budgetary provision, obtaining by false pretence, acquiring property with money derived from the illegal act and concealing the ownership of such property.
Counsel to the EFCC, Dr Benedict Ubi, had alleged that while Alao-Akala was the governor of Oyo State, he awarded a road contract worth N8.5 billion between 2007 and 2009 to Pentagon Engineering Services, alleging that the firm handled the contract on behalf of the 33 local governments areas of the state without budgetary provision and had ordered the supply of drilling machines on behalf of the 33 local government areas worth N3.5 billion.
The EFCC alleged that the former governor purportedly conspired with Ayoola to withdraw N2.9 billion from Oyo State Local Government Joint Account. l and had illegally acquired a property at Old Bodija, Off Rotimi Williams Avenue, in Ibadan, when he was governor contrary to Section 22 (4) of the Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Act and Section 1 (18) of the Advanced Fee Fraud Act.
The trio had filed a no-case submission after the EFCC closed its case before the high court and Justice Muniru Owolabi in his ruling had struck out eight out of the 11 count-charge proffered against them and ordered them to enter defence for the remaining three counts- counts; conspiracy, obtaining money by false pretence and award of contract without budgetary provision.
But the defendants, through their lead counsel, Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), appealed the ruling of the lower court on the ground that they had no case to answer.
Delivering judgement on the appeal on Thursday, the judges in a unanimous decision set aside the ruling of the lower court, on grounds that the trial court erred by ordering the defendants to enter defence for the three counts because the prosecution led by the EFCC failed to establish a prima facie case against them.
Justice Bada read the judgement for Alao-Akala, while Justices Abba Muhammed and Abdulazeez Waziri read the judgments for Babalola and Agboola respectively.
Speaking with journalists after the judgement, the lead counsel to Alao-Akala and Babalola, Prince Lateef Fagbemi (SAN), represented by Abiodun Ogunjinmi, said: “We really appreciate and thank God Almighty for giving us a beautiful judgement today. The justices did a marvellous job. This case started in 2012, which was about 11 years ago. It came to an end today. It first started at the high court of justice in Ibadan. But thanks be to God that it ended well. The appellant, Alao-Akala and Babalola were all discharged and acquitted finally.”
Also speaking, Alao-Akala said: “We can always rely on the judiciary. They are the hope for the common man like me. So, we thank God for everything. God has settled everything, and so, let us forget about the number of years the case took.”
Similarly, Femi Babalola, said: “The judiciary is the last hope of a common man like me. I thank God for today’s judgement and I give all the glory to God, irrespective of the number of years spent on the case.”
When contacted, Counsel to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, Benedict Ubi declined an interview on the judgements of the court.