Court convicts ex-Customs chief Abdullahi Dikko’s lawyer of N1.1 billion fraud
The Federal High Court in Abuja on Wednesday convicted Umar Hussaini, who was a lawyer to ex-Comptroller-General, Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), the late Abdullahi Dikko, over N1.1 billion fraud.
The judge, Ijeoma Ojukwu, sentenced Mr Hussaini to seven years’ imprisonment, but with an option of N100 million fine.
She found Mr Hussaini guilty of two counts of obtaining money by false pretence contrary to and punishable under the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act, 2006.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reported that the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission (ICPC) filed the case marked FHC/ABJ/CR/74/2020 against Mr Hussaini as the sole defendant.
According to ICPC, the case involved N1.1 billlion paid by NCS to a real estate company, Cambial Nigeria Limited for purchase of housing units. The agency said Mr Hussaini fraudulently recieved the money from the real estate company using the account of his law firm, Capital Law Office, in April 2010.
The N1.1 billion was part of the funds NCS had paid to Cambial Nigeria Limited for the purchase of 120 housing units in Kuje, Abuja, meant to be distributed to Customs officers.
ICPC said Mr Dikko instructed Cambial Nigeria Limited to pay Mr Hussaini’s law firm the N1.1 billion which was described as “completion security deposit” for the sale of the 120 housing units.
Although, Mr Hussaini was Mr Dikko’s private lawyer, the anti-corruption agency said, he was designated to receive the money from Cambial Nigeria Limited as NCS external solicitor.
An ICPC investigator, Yetunde Faniran, told the court that the lodgment of the N1.1 billion was masked from the statement of account of Capital Law Office with Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc.
The investigator, however said, the account statement of Cambial Nigeria Limited with Zenith Bank Plc, reflected the transfer of the money to the law firm owned by Mr Hussaini, sometime in April, 2010.
The defendant, according to the ICPC operative, had said the money paid to him on the instructions of the late NCS boss was the death benefit of a deceased relative of Mr Dikko.
The operative said Mr Hussaini could not provide the name of the alleged deceased relative.
Investigations, the ICPC operative added, revealed that Mr Hussaini transferred much of the money to a Bureau De-Change (BDC), which was then converted into $3 million and handed over to Mr Dikko through one of his subordinates.
Mr Dikko, who died in February 2021, was initially charged along with Mr Hussaini and other alleged conspirators.
But the ICPC withdrew the initial case in June 2020, when it could not arrest and produce Mr Dikko in court.
Plea for mercy
After Ms Ojukwu convicted Mr Hussaini, two witnesses, including a lawyer, Amobi Nzelu, testified about Mr Hussaini’s good character, while praying the court for leniency.
They begged the court to give the sentencing with an option of fine.
The convict, who was said to have four wives with children and aged parents, was said to be the breadwinner of the family.
He also begged the court to temper justice with mercy and sentence him with an option of fine.
He said he had never cheated anyone or committed any crime before and that the responsibility of discipline and catering for the children was on him.
Naziru Umar, the convict’s lawyer, broke into tears while pleading on behalf of his client for mercy.
Mr Umar prayed that the sentencing should be with an option of fine in accordance with the provisions of Section 6(c)(1)(2) of the FHC Corruption and Other Related Offences Sentencing Guidelines and Practice Direction, 2015.
ICPC’s lawyer, Olubunmi Ikupolati, who drew the attention of the court to Section 11 of the AFF Act, 2006, urged the court to convict him with restitution of the funds stolen.
But Mr Umar urged the court to discountenance Mr Ikupolati’s application, saying such a request would amount to double jeopardy since his client was also facing a civil matter before the FCT High Court.
Mr Ikupolati urged the court to uphold his argument.
He said the issue of double jeopardy did not arise here since there was no existing judgment on the matter.
Sentence and restitution
In her judgement, Ms Ojukwu handed down seven years jail term on each of the two counts with an option of fine of N50 million on each of the counts.
The judge, however, ordered that the sentencing would run concurrently.
Ms Ojukwu equally ordered Ms Hussaini to pay N100 million as compensation to the victims of the crime – Yemi Obadeyi and the company, Cambial Limited.
She ordered the convict to be remanded in prison pending the fulfilment of the terms of fine.