The Code of Conduct Tribunal on Tuesday convicted a former Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Mr. Godsday Orubebe, for failure to declare his property at Plot 2057, Asokoro District, Abuja, in any of his asset declaration forms he completed as minister.
As punishment, the Danladi Umar-led tribunal in its judgment ordered that the property which the former minister failed to declare be forfeited to the Federal Government.
Umar, reading the judgment of the CCT, said, “The tribunal has been satisfied with the prosecution that up till now it is the name of the accused person that is with the Federal Capital Territory Land Registry as the owner of the property and not DW1/Divention Properties Limited.
“The tribunal hereby adjudges the accused person (Orubebe) guilty as charged and on that premise hands down the following punishment in accordance with section 23 of the Code of Conduct Bureau/Tribunal Act as incorporated under the Fifth Schedule to the 1999 Constitution as amended:
“The property known as Plot 2057 which belongs to the defendant is hereby seized and forfeited to the Federal Government of Nigeria.”
The tribunal does not have the power to sentence a person it convicts to prison.
It is the first time in the recent history of the tribunal that a top politically-exposed person would be convicted by the tribunal.
The tribunal rejected the ex-minister’s defence that he (Orubebe) acquired the property after he became minister and sold it to another company before he left office.
The Federal Government had on March 8, 2016, re-arraigned Orubebe on an amended charge of failure to declare his property at Plot 2057, Asokoro District, Abuja, in his asset declaration forms submitted to the Code of Conduct Bureau as a minister between 2007 and 2011.
The offence was said to be contrary to section 15 of Code of Conduct Bureau and Tribunal Act Cap 15 Laws of the Federation of Nigeria, 2004 and punishable under section 23(2) of the same Act.
The prosecution called an official of the Code of Conduct Bureau, Mr. Samuel Madojemu, as its only witness to prove its case.
Madojemu had in his testimony, given details of how the CCB discovered the property allegedly owned by the ex-minister in Abuja but which the former minister was said to have failed to declare as his in his asset declaration forms.
He said Orubebe submitted five asset declaration forms to the CCB between 2007 and 2011, copies of the forms were admitted by the CCT as exhibits.
He added that the former minister failed to declare the plot of land as of the time of leaving office on May 29, 2011.
The witness said Orubebe ignored the CCB’s invitation to him to make statements during the investigation of the case.
The prosecution also tendered some documents, including the title documents of the property and Orubebe’s asset declaration forms submitted to the CCB.
Led in evidence by his lawyer, Mr. Selekowei Larry (SAN), the former minister testifying as the second defence witness (DW2), said the plot of land was allocated to him by the Federal Government as a minister, through the then Minister of the Federal Capital Territory in 2011.
But he said he sold the plot of land for N10m, which he said he used to settle his accumulated rent for two years between 2009 and 2011.
He explained that he did not declare it as his asset when he assumed office in 2007 because it had not been allocated to him then.
Orubebe also said he did not declare the plot of land as his asset in 2011 because he had sold it to his landlord before he made the last asset declaration while leaving office.
He said he never visited the plot of land because he sold it on the same date it was allocated to him to offset the N10m backlog of rent of two years.
Orubebe earlier called the owner of the company, Divention Properties Limited to which he claimed to have sold the property, Mr. Akinwunmi Ajibola, as the first defence witness, who also testified that he had bought the land from the former minister.
But in its judgment on Tuesday, the tribunal held that it found it absurd to believe that after six years of transfer of the ownership of the property, the new owner had yet to register the title documents with the Federal Capital Territory Land Registry as required under the Land Instrument Registration Law.
The tribunal chairman ruled that the prosecution had been able to establish its case beyond reasonable doubt in line with the provisions of section 139 of the Evidence Act, 2011. Punch