Following Thursday’s judgment in a Federal High Court presided over by Justice Mohammed Idris in Lagos which convicted Kalu on 39 counts of N7.2 billion fraud and money laundering preferred against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), jubilation has erupted across major cities of Abia State excluding his home town, Igbere.
Random interviews by Business Hilights South East Bureau chief in Umuahia, the state capital Thursday shortly after the ruling which was immediately aired on the local radio, BCA 88.1, Umuahia, many respondents expressed happiness on the ruling.
Many of them noted that the ruling has vindicated them over their anger on how he suddenly become wealthy during his tenure as Governor of the state.
Aside, happenstances in Abia State, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP) and some other civil society groups also lauded the 12-year prison sentence handed down to ex-Gov. Orji Kalu of Abia.
According to the Executive Director of SERAP, Mr Adetokunbo Mumuni, the judiciary was playing its part in the anti-graft war.
He argued that “What we see now is that the judiciary is trying to live up to expectations; what must be done has to be done.
“The facts of the case have been properly reviewed, evidence thoroughly analysed; there is no basis for querying the judgment; however, let us see the reaction of Orji Uzor Kalu’s counsel to the verdict.
“If his counsel wants to appeal, they have the right to do so, but if the allegations and evidence are anything to go by, I believe justice has been properly served irrespective of whoever is involved,” he said.
Also speaking, the National President of the Committee for the Defence of Human Rights (CDHR), Mr Malachy Ugwummadu, noted the role the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) played in the speedy trial of the case and hailed the provisions ACJA which prevented the trial from starting de novo (from the beginning) when the trial judge was elevated to the Court of Appeal.
In his views, he said “The speed with which this case was adjudicated has everything to do with the ACJA that now allows that a trial judge, though elevated, can return to conclude an ongoing criminal proceeding.
“The ACJA is explicit, it is proactive, it is definitive, it allows a judge, who started a trial and got elevated to a superior court, to return to conclude proceedings.
“This is exactly what happened here. Orji Uzor Kalu was arraigned before Justice Mohammed Idris, who within the period of the trial, was elevated to the Court of Appeal. Today, he delivered that judgment.
“To that extent, it is remarkable because it touches on the speedy dispensation of justice. What obtained before now, was the matter starting de novo with the transfer or elevation of the judge,” he said.
Though efforts to reach the imprisoned Senator failed at news time, there are strong indications that he may appeal the judgment.
Besides, many who had believed that his surprised decamping from his traditional party, the PDP upon which he ruled Abia for eight year to ruling APC was to escape being jailed which never happened after all.
Kalu, who is the chief whip of the Nigerian Senate was convicted of N7.1 billion fraud and money laundering.
The judge also ordered that Kalu’s company, Slok Nigeria Limited, be liquidated and its assets forfeited to the federal government.
Kalu stood trial on a 39-count charge brought against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
The senator, Slok Nigeria Limited, and Udeh Udeogu, a former director of finance and accounts in Abia were accused of diverting N7.65 billion from the purse of the state government.
Besidrs, he is also accused of illegally taking N460 million from Abia’s treasury.
“Slok Nigeria Limited – a company solely owned by you and members of your family – to retain in its account, domiciled with the then Inland Bank Plc, Apapa branch, Lagos, an aggregate sum of N7,197,871,208.7 on your behalf,” one of the charges filed against Kalu reads.
The offences are said to be in contravention of section 17(c) of the money laundering (prohibition) act, 2004.
In the course of the trial, the anti-graft agency argued that the defendants breached section 427 of the criminal code act, CAP 77, Laws of the federation 1990.
Business Hilights recalls that Kalu’s corruption trial began since in 2007, more than 12 years ago.
The Abia State Government is yet to react to the imprisment of the former governor now a senator of the Federal Republic.