The Federal High Court in Calabar, Cross River State, on Tuesday sentenced two petroleum dealers to 20 years’ imprisonment without an option of fine for stealing Automotive Gas Oil, otherwise known as diesel, using forged documents.
The convicts, Tony Ochonogor and Efe Alex, broke down in tears and wept openly in the dock in disbelief after the judgment was passed.
According to the prosecution, the convicts were arrested in Amassoma, Bayelsa State on March 20, 2013 by the Joint Task Force with 33, 000 litres of AGO with documents purported to have been issued by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, Pipeline and Product Marketing Company and Conoil.
Delivering judgment in the case on Tuesday, the presiding judge, Justice Inyang Ekwo, said the prosecution team proved the four counts pressed against the convicts beyond reasonable doubts.
The judge said he found out from the evidence before the court that the interaction between Ochonogor and Alex, resulting in the transaction, amounted to conspiracy.
Justice Ekwo said, “From the evidence before the court, the convicts did not have appropriate authority to lift the petroleum product. There was no disparity between the arguments of the prosecution counsel and the defence counsel and the evidence was not contradicted by the confessional statements of the defendants.
“From the evidence before the court, the metre ticket and the waybill as well as invoice/PIN with N.7576, purported to have been issued by Conoil Plc in respect of a tanker with Registration Number, Delta XD 459 WWR, conveying the AGO were forged.”
Before proceeding to pronounce his sentence on the accused persons, Justice Ekwo said that mere denial did not suffice as defence in criminal trial.
He added, “I will not agree with the defence to discharge the accused persons.”
Justice Ekwo sentenced the convicts to five years’ imprisonment on each on the four counts pressed against them, holding, however, that the prison terms would run concurrently.
The court also ordered that the 33,000 litres of petroleum product and the tanker recovered from the convicts should be forfeited to the Federal Government.
The defence counsel, Mr. N.A. Ibiloye, had, before the sentence pleaded with the judge to temper justice with mercy, urging the judge not to pass maximum sentence because his clients were first-time offenders.
He said Ochonogor, the first convict, was a pastor, married with children, adding that if he was put behind bars, he would not be able to take care of his family and his church would scatter.
The defence counsel said the second convict, Alex, was a family man whose wife had just died and left behind a little child for him to take care of.