Justice R.I.B. Adebiyi of the Lagos High Court sitting at Ikeja, on Tuesday, sentenced two land agents, Emmanuel Adejo and Obi Fortune, to two-year imprisonment for conspiracy and stealing.
The convicts were said to have committed the offences through their company, Paradigm Associates Limited.
It was gathered that a landowner, Mr Tani Molajo, contracted the men to sell some plots of land in the Islolo area of Lagos State at N700,000 per plot.
However, the realtors advertised each plot for N2m, saying the N1.3m extra was for facilities that would improve the worth of the land, including soil test, culvert, road and perimeter fence.
The men were said to have remitted payment for 14 subscribers at the rate of N700,000 each, while Molajo allocated land to those subscribers.
However, some other subscribers who paid and did not get any allocation reported the matter to the police.
The men were subsequently arrested and charged with 15 counts of stealing and conspiracy.
The charges read in part, “Emmanuel Adejo, Obi Fortune and another at large, between February 2010 and August 2011, at Isheri-Osun, behind Jakande Estate, Isolo, in the Lagos Judicial Division, did conspire with each other to commit an offence, to wit: stealing of various sums of money from Adewale Fatade, Chukwuka Eze, Obinna Okoli, Ugochukwu Okpara, Chike Anikwe, Pastor Ajidahun and Oyindamola Oluwatunmise, when you collected various sums of money from them for provision of facilities on the land such as earth road, L-shaped culvert, perimeter fence, which facilities were never provided.”
The total amount stolen from the seven victims alone was estimated at N22,278,500, as some other subscribers were said to be unaccounted for.
The judge found the men guilty on five of the counts and demanded their allocutus.
Adejo said, “We are young men who have toiled and struggled to make ends meet legitimately. The transaction in question carried out was a legitimate one with genuine documents and we did everything humanly possible to ensure that the transaction went well.
“As family men with kids and relatives, we have been coming to court honourably for the past 10 years since this case began. We always want to do the right thing and be on the path of righteousness.”
Fortune said, “We want the judge to have mercy on us because of our children and wives; we are the breadwinners of our families.”
Justice Adebiyi sentenced the defendants to two years’ imprisonment with a fine option of N1,250,000 each, to be paid within a month to the state government.
The prosecutor, Rotimi Odutola, a Deputy Director in the Lagos State Ministry of Justice, thanked the court for the judgment.
She, however, pointed out that the court, in addition to the fine option, could have ordered restitution so the victims could recoup some of their losses.
Justice Adebiyi told the counsel that she did not ask the court for restitution.
Speaking with our correspondent, Odutola said she would appeal the judgement, describing the punishment as mild.
She said, “About 30 victims, which included a journalist, paid N2m each per plot to the defendants and just few of them appeared for the case.
“The owner of the land asked the defendants to sell at N700,000 per plot with five per cent commission and they didn’t even pay the landowner in full.
“The victims made instalment payment from their sweat and got nothing in return even from the court.
“I am going to file an appeal against the sentence as it is too mild.”