A Federal High Court in Abuja has handed a seven-year jail term to a thirty-four year-old self-professed herbalist after finding him guilty of defrauding a former chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
Judge Gabriel Kolawole sentenced Matthew Sonoma a.k.a “Dr Perebokowe Ogah” to seven years imprisonment with hard labour for his involvement in an elaborate scheme which defraud Sam Edem, a former ambassador who chaired the board of the NDDC at that time, of N715 milion.
Judge Kolawole convicted the Warri resident on the strength of a 15-count criminal charge filed against him by the Inspector General of Police. The court said it was satisfied that the accused person contravened section 7(2) (b) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act, 2006.
Mr Edem lodged a criminal complaint with the police, where he alleged that he paid the money into Mr Sonoma’s account with the Ugheli branch of Oceanic Bank. He claimed that the money was a loan he gave the herbalist to execute a business deal. The petitioner, however, lamented that Sonama reneged to refund the money and instead allegedly threatened his life while the money was kept away from the original bank account.
In a separate case, the police had also arraigned the former NDDC chairman before an Abuja High Court in Wuse on allegation that he unlawfully spent about N800 million belonging to the commission on Mr Sonoma and although Edem had denied the allegation in court, police, the police investigation revealed that Mr Edem had used the money to secure the services of the accused person with a view to getting protection and favourable contracts from Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom
The police testified before the court that Mr Sonoma said that he was paid to help Mr Edem make some sacrifices to be able to retain his position as the commission’s chairman. However, the NDDC boss refuted the allegation, maintaining that the accused person threatened him into releasing the money, adding that he never paid the spiritualist directly. Edem told the court that he paid the money through his Personal Assistant, an SSS officer attached to him, one Mr Denis, now at large, upon his advice.
In his summary judgment in the case against “Dr Perebokowe Ogah”, Justice Kolawole noted that going by the proof of evidence before the court, the ex-NDDC boss paid the amount into the accused person’s account with Oceanic bank Plc, Warri branch. The Judge said there was evidence that though the accused opened the said account with his real name, however, following the petition to police, the native doctor, hurriedly opened another account with the same bank under a false name Tunwere Ejoor where he transferred the money in order to conceal the source and location of the money.
Justice Kolawole said from the overwhelming bank documents and evidence-in-chief of the bank manager, the prosecution, proved beyond doubt that the convict had fraudulent intention in transferring the said money to another account under false name during the pendency of police investigation. The court agreed with the prosecution counsel, Mr Simon Lough, that the jailed herbalist got the money from his victim with fraudulent intent since he could not explain the services for which the money was paid.
It was the judgment of the trial court that the convict failed to prove that the money was payment for services he rendered to Edem, noting that he was unable to disclose the nature of such services when he was called upon to do so. Consequently, the court dismissed argument of the native doctor that he adopted a new name owing to disagreement he had with his father in the village. The trial Judge stressed that seven years jail term with hard labour should be a reasonable penalty for the convict as prescribed under section 7 (2) (b) of the Advance Fee Fraud Act 2006.
However, the judge did not make an order for forfeiture and restitution of the money and other exhibits seized by police from the convict.