By Ikechukwu Nnochiri
ABUJA— A 34-year- old herbalist, Matthew Sonoma a.k.a “Dr Perebokowe Ogah” has been sentenced to seven years imprisonment with hard labour, by a Federal High Court in Abuja sequel to his alleged complicity in Advance Fee Fraud otherwise known as 419.
The herbalist was specifically accused of duping a former chairman of the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, Ambassador Sam Edem, to the tune of N715 milion.
Trial Justice Gabriel Kolawole convicted the Warri-based herbalist on the strength of a 15-count criminal charge preferred 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.
Edem had, in his petition to the Police, alleged that he paid the money into the account the accused person opened 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.
It would be recalled that 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 the convicted sorcerer.
Though Edem denied the allegation in court, police, however, insisted that during investigations into the petition, it uncovered that the NNDC ex-boss spent the said sum to secure the services of the accused person with a view to getting protection and favourable contracts from Governor Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom State.
Police further told the court that the spiritualist confessed that he was paid to help him (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.
Meantime, in his 66 paged judgment on 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 intention since he failed to disclosed the services he rendered to the diplomat that warranted the payment of the huge sum.
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.
Nevertheless, the court declined to make an order for forfeiture and restitution of the money and other exhibits seized by police from the convict.