A Court of Appeal sitting in Lagos on Thursday discharged and acquitted Raymond Omatseye, a former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), who was convicted of awarding contracts above his threshold. Scores of Omatseye’s kinsmen who were in court dressed in their native attire broke into jubilation after the appellate court delivered its ruling.
Omatseye was on May 20, 2016 convicted and sentenced to five years imprisonment by Justice Rita Ofili-Ajumogobia of a Federal High Court in Lagos over a N1.5 billion-contract scam.
Ofili-Ajumogobia ruled then that Omatseye had awarded contracts worth N2.5 million above his stipulated threshold, and accordingly, convicted him in 24 out of 27-count charge.
Omatseye was sued by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC).
The ex-NIMASA boss, however, through his lawyer, Edoka Onyeke, went on appeal.
On his grounds of appeal, his lawyer argued that Omatseye was persecuted and not prosecuted, stressing that the offence of approval above threshold does not exist in law.
He also argued that the judge threw out a Jan. 23, 2013 letter from the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP), which cleared Omatseye of any wrongdoing while in the agency.
Onyeke argued that the letter was addressed to former President Goodluck Jonathan, signed by Emeka Ezeh, former Director-General of BPP.
He said that the letter had informed the former President that after a scrutiny of the case, the Bureau was of the view that the 27 charges were breaches brought under sections of the Procurement Act.
He also said the breaches dealt with administrative breaches rather than real offences under the Act that could attract conviction or sanctions from the regular courts.
He said, surprisingly, the lower court jettisoned the report admitted as evidence in court. It, however, discharged and acquitted Omatseye on a three-count charge bordering on contract splitting.
Onyeke said that the court, however, sentenced Omatseye to five years imprisonment on 24-count charge of N2.5million approval above his threshold, which does not exist in law.
But the appellate court, after going through the grounds of appeal, held among others, that the trial court did not properly evaluate the evidence.
The court, presided over by Justice Yargata Nimpar, resolved all five grounds of appeal in the appellant’s favour.
Other members of the three-man panel were Justice Adejumo Obaseki and Justice Abraham Georgewill.
In reaching its decision, the court considered four issues for determination, including whether under Section 16(1)(A) of the Public Procurement Act 2007, approval for spending over the threshold constitutes an offence.
Justice Nimpar, who read the judgment, considered whether the trial court properly evaluated the evidence.
She said: “I found that it did not. The long and short of it, is that, the appeal succeeds. The prosecution should not ride roughshod over the Constitution.
“The judiciary will do the war on corruption more harm by declaring someone a criminal, where no offence has been committed.
“I find merit in the appeal. The conviction is hereby set aside and the appellant is hereby discharged and acquitted”.
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