By Aishat Momoh

Patrick Akpobolokemi, the former director-general of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), was cleared by a Lagos Federal High Court of all charges related to an alleged N8, 537, 586, and 798.58 billion fraud that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) had brought against him.

The former NIMASA Director-General was released and found not guilty today by Justice Ayokunle Faji, who also rendered a decision on the no-case motion that he and the other four defendants had submitted in response to the 22 counts that were brought against them.

A NIMASA employee named Josphine Otuaga and Akpobolokemi were dismissed and found not guilty by Justice Faji on the grounds that the EFCC had not produced sufficient evidence to support a prima facie case against them.

However, Justice Faji decided that both the third defendant, Kime Engonzu, a staff member of NIMASA, and the second defendant, Major-General Emmanuel Atewe (rtd), a former commander of the Joint Task Force Operation Pulo Shield, had to present their case because they had answers to provide for counts 12 through 22 of the charge.

In a no-case submission submitted on behalf of Collins Ogbonna by his attorneys, Dr. Joseph Nwobike (SAN) requested Akpobolokemi's acquittal in front of the court without requiring him to provide a defence.

He said that the prosecution was unable to connect him to the alleged crimes despite all of the witnesses and evidence it had presented.

Akpobolokemi was arraigned before the court alongside Major-General Emmanuel Atewe (rtd), a former Commander of the Joint Task Force Operation Pulo Shield, and two other staff of the agency, Kime Engonzu and Josphine Otuaga.

They are being prosecuted for an amended 22-count charge bordering on conspiracy; conversion; and stealing (by fraudulent conversion).

One of the counts reads: "That you, Patrick Ziadeke Akpobolokemi, Major General Emmanuel Atewe, Kime Engozu, and Josphine Otuaga sometimes in 2014, in Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this Court, with intent to defraud, conspired amongst yourselves to commit an offence to wit: Conversion of the sum of N8,537,586,798.58 property of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency and you thereby committed an offence contrary to Section 18 (a) of the Money Laundering (Prohibition) Act 2012 and punishable under Section 15 (3) of the same Act."

They had pleaded "not guilty" to the charges, thereby prompting the commencement of their trial.

Following the prosecution's case, each defendant chose not to submit a case.

In rendering a decision, Justice Faji stated that not a single piece of evidence presented by the prosecution connected the first defendant, Patrick Ziadeke Akpobolokemi, and the fourth defendant to the acts for which they were charged.

The court determined that, in light of all the evidence presented, the prosecution had not established a prima facie case against the first defendant that would have allowed him to mount a defence, nor had it produced any credible evidence connecting the defendant to the commission of the offences claimed against him in Counts 1 through 11 of the first amended charge.

The court further observed that of the eleven witnesses called by the complainant, only one, PW2, mentioned the name of the first defendant, Akpobolokemi, in their testimony, while the other witnesses made it quite evident that they knew nothing about the first defendant and had no contact with him.

"If there is no sufficient evidence linking the accused with the statutory elements and ingredients a court of trial must as a matter of law discharge him. It has no business searching for evidence what is nowhere and therefore cannot be found,” Court held.

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