Federal High Court in Maiduguri on Thursday sentenced two local government officials to one year in prison and N1 million fine each for selling 180 bags of rice meant for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs).
The convicts, Bulama Zangebe, a counsellor and Modu Bulama, a storekeeper, both with Mafa Local Government Council of Borno were arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on a two-count charge bordering on criminal conspiracy and criminal misappropriation.
According to the charge sheet, the two colluded with one Shettima Maina, a former chairman of the local government, to commit the criminal act.
Maina, who was the first defendant, was declared “at large” throughout the hearing of the case because he was arrested by the military, for allegedly hoarding a wanted Boko Haram kingpin in his house.
Zangebe and Bulama were also convicted for converting N1.4 million, being proceed from the sale of the rice stolen from the IDP camp, into their personal use.
The convicts equally converted another N585,000, being the proceed from the sale of yet another 65 bags of rice stolen from the camp. Prosecuting witnesses told the court that the rice in question was donated to IDPs by the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) and clearly marked “not for sale’’.
The Presiding Judge, Justice Fadawu Umar, said that the two were found guilty of the two-count charge brought against them by EFCC.
Umar said that the second and third defendants had, through their defence, contradicted themselves throughout the hearing. He added that the convicts told the court that they had to sell the rice because they were about to expire.
“They later told the court that the former council chairman, Maina, ordered them to sell the commodity because the IDPs complained that they were tired of eating rice every day.
“The convicts further contradicted themselves by saying that the stolen rice belonged to soldiers, who wanted to sell them off in order to travel for Christmas,’’ the judge said.
Umar noted that the two also lied to the court that the money realised from the sale of the rice was used to buy maize for the IDPs.
He said that “the convicts claimed that the grains were kept in the local government store.
“But when the court went to verify the claims, it was found that 200 bags of maize had been in the store long before the theft and sale of the DRC donated rice.’’
The judge said that for the first count, the convicts committed a crime punishable under sections 96 and 97 of the Penal Code Cap 345 of Northern States of Nigeria and thereby sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of N1 million.
“For the second charge, they committed a crime punishable under sections 308 and 309 of Penal Code Law Cap 345, Laws of Northern States of Nigeria, and are thereby sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of N1 million.’’
The judge said the convicts were to serve the sentences concurrently.
The EFCC prosecuting lawyer, Khalid Sanusi, said that the judgment was a welcome development, as it would bring justice to the people.
"We in the EFCC are prosecuting persons involved in this kind of crime, so that our society can be a better place." he said.