Justice Oluwatoyin Taiwo of the Special Offences Court sitting in Ikeja, Lagos, Thursday convicted and sentenced one Bolarinwa Abiodun, a fake Army General to seven years in prison on a 13-count charge bordering on obtaining money by false pretence, forgery of documents and possession of documents containing false pretence, to the tune of N266,500,000.
The offences are contrary to Section 1 (3) of the Advance Fee Fraud and other Fraud Related Offences Act 2006; Section 363 of the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2015 and Section 6 of the Advance Fee Fraud and other Related Offences Act No 14 of 2006, respectively.
The defendant, who was prosecuted by the Lagos Zonal Command of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), posed as a General in the Nigerian Army and was accused of making false representations to the complainant, Kodef Clearing Resources, claiming that President Muhammadu Buhari had short-listed him and one other to be appointed as the Chief of Army Staff, COAS, and that he needed a short grant to “press and process the appointment.”
Abiodun was arrested at his house in the Alagbado area of Lagos State on Wednesday, January 12, 2022, and was also accused of forging a letter of appointment as COAS purportedly signed by the President and showed the same to the victim to further prove his claim.
In the said letter, he claimed that he needed to pay a certain amount of money into the coffers of the Federal Government of Nigeria, as part of the requirements for the appointment as COAS.
Abiodun was also accused of forging a Nigeria Army Identity Card with serial number 387140, claiming the same to have been issued to him from the Nigerian Army, and another forged Letter of Recommendation purportedly signed by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo recommending one Adebayo Rasaq Adebola, with recruitment No 77RRI/OG/556/0032555 and Adeogun Emmanuel Adesola with recruitment No 77RRI/OG/352/0123751 for employment into the Nigeria Army.
He was also accused of being in possession of a forged Certificate of Confirmation dated November 7, 2018, purporting the same to have emanated from the Nigerian Army Headquarters.
He was also accused of being in possession of a forged document titled: Letter of Authorization, purportedly signed by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo permitting one Bamidele Olusegun Safiriyu of De-Rock Maritime Resource Ltd to enter Apapa Port freely and load their truck.
One of the counts reads: “Bolarinwa Oluwasegun Abiodun, between 15th June, 2020 and 31st December 2020 in Lagos, within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, with intent to defraud and whilst holding yourself out as a General in the Nigerian Army, obtained the sum of N111,400,000 from Kodef Clearing Resources Limited, under the pretence that the sum represented part of the amount expended to “press and process” your incoming appointment by the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, as the CHIEF OF ARMY STAFF of the Nigerian Army, which pretence you knew to be false.”
Another count reads: “Bolarinwa Oluwasegun Abiodun, sometime in May 2020 in Lagos within the jurisdiction of this Honourable Court, knowingly forged LETTER OF APPOINTMENT AS CHIEF OF ARMY STAFF dated 20th May 2020 and purported the said document to have emanated from the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, which document you know to be false.”
He had pleaded “not guilty” to the charges when he was first arraigned on April 11, 2022.
Justice Taiwo had also on April 25, 2022 denied him bail, holding that the facts presented by the prosecution showed that he was a flight-risk, and so instead, ordered accelerated hearing.
In the course of the trial, the prosecuting team, Rotimi Oyedepo, A.O. Muhammed, S.I. Suleiman and E.K. Uduak presented six witnesses and tendered documentary evidence to prove the case against him.
The prosecution opened its case on April 25, 2022 and closed its case on June 20, 2022.
Thereafter, the defendant was ordered to open his defence.
However, at Thursday’s sitting, July 7, 2022, the defence counsel, Otunba Ogunleye, informed the court that his client had decided to change his plea, “rather than going through the rigours of defence”.
There was no objection raised by the lead prosecuting counsel, Oyedepo, who noted that “the defendant has the constitutional right to do so, and we are still standing on the same charges.”
Thereafter, the 13 counts were read afresh to him, after which he said “I’m guilty” to all the counts.
Following his guilty plea, Oyedepo gave a review of the facts, urging the court to rely on the evidence of the six witnesses presented by the prosecution and the various documents tendered through them as Exhibit A to W.
He said: “We seek to rely on the unequivocal admission of the defendant by way of his plea admitting the essential ingredients of the offence against him.
“The law is trite, when the defendant pleads guilty to an offence the burden on the prosecution is as light as feather.
“Even on the strength of his extra-judicial statement, it’s clear as crystal that the defendant admitted to the essential ingredients of the offences alleged against him.
“We seek your lordship’s order to convict the defendant as charged.”
Thereafter, Justice Taiwo convicted him as charged.
Ogunleye in his allocutus, urged the court to temper justice with mercy and to give “a very minimal sentence”, noting that the defendant was remorseful as “demonstrated by his willingness to change his plea and not to further waste the judicial time in this case”.
“He has a wife and several children as well as numerous extended family members under his care to whom he is the breadwinner,” he added.
Responding, Oyedepo noted that the prosecution had no record of his previous conviction, but urged the court to impose a sentence to serve as deterrence to others who may want to engage in similar crime.
He further urged the court to order the forfeiture of four vehicles recovered from him, a black Range Rover Sport, a black BMW, a black Toyota Landcruiser, and a white Toyota Hilux, and a property located at No 1A Joke Ayo Street, Riverside Estate, Alagbado, Lagos as part of restitution to the victim. He also urged the court to order the closure of the First Bank account used to perpetrate the fraud, in which he changed his name from Hassan Karim Ayinde to Bolarinwa Oluwasegun Abiodun to perpetrate the fraud.
He further urged the court to take cognisance of the fact that the document used for the fraud “was purportedly signed by the Commander-in-Chief, our current and sitting President of the country, the most revered office in the land”, and so prayed the court to impose sentence “that will deter anybody from joking with that office”.
In sentencing the convict, Justice Taiwo held that: “The defendant went the length of involving a former president of this country, General Obasanjo and forged documents allegedly signed by the current president of this country, President Muhammadu Buhari.
“It is so sad that people like the defendant have given our beloved country bad image.
“It is obvious that the defendant appears to be a very intelligent man, more is the pity that he could not put his ingenuity to better use.
“In the light of the seriousness of this scam, and in order to send a clear message to all scammers, fraudsters and criminals, this court is prepared to protect the interest of Nigerians and the society at large.
“I therefore sentence the defendant to seven years imprisonment without an option of fine.”
The Court also granted the prayers of the prosecution for the forfeiture of the four vehicles and the property in order to help the victim recover his money. He was also ordered to pay N20 million as restitution to the victim. His First Bank account was also ordered “closed forthwith”.