Justice Oluwatoyin Taiwo of the Lagos state Special Offences Court in Ikeja has discharged and acquitted a former employee of the wife of the former governor of Cross River State, Onari Duke, Ebele Mbanugo, who was accused by Mrs Duke of stealing $110,267.57 from her non-governmental organisation.
Punch reports that Mbanugo who is the former Vice-Principal of the American International School, Lagos, was accused of defrauding Mrs Duke’s NGO, the Child Survival and Development Organisation of Nigeria, of the fund between September 2009 and October 2011.
Counsel to the former first lady, K. O. Sarumi, alleged that Mbanugo misappropriated the money raised for the purpose of purchasing mammogram machines for the detection of breast cancer. The offences, according to Sarumi, contravene sections 265(7) and 278(1) (b) of the Criminal Law of Lagos State, 2011.
Mbanugo, however, during her testimony before the court, denied the allegations.
She said that in 2009, she had established an NGO called the Run for Cure Africa Breast Cancer Foundation to raise funds to purchase mammogram machines. She got acquainted with Mrs Duke because she taught her daughter at the AISL and had approached the former Cross River first lady to use her influence to help with fundraising for the foundation.
Mbanugo added that various Run for Cure Africa fundraising races were held on the premises of the AISL from 2009 to 2011, with dignitaries such as Onari; wife of the former governor of Lagos, Abimbola Fashola; and various consul-generals in attendance.
Mbanugo told the court that Onari had received a cheque of N7.4m from the funds raised. She added that three mammogram machines bought were donated to the Calabar Women and Children’s Hospital, Lagos University Teaching Hospital and a branch of the Redeemed Christian Church of God.
She, however, noted that a dispute arose between her and Onari over the ownership of the initiative, leading to the criminal suit filed in court against her.
While delivering judgment on Monday March 4th, Justice Taiwo held that the prosecution failed to prove that Mbanugo stole the money. She noted that the criminal suit stemmed from a “serious and disruptive rivalry” between the defendant and Onari on the ownership of the fundraising initiative.
“The prosecution failed to prove that the money misappropriated belonged to Mrs Duke. Mrs Duke was not called to testify in this case. The testimony of the defendant showed how three mammogram machines were bought from General Electric for $133,000, which is a sum higher than the sum allegedly misappropriated by the defendant. The prosecution failed to prove the source of the funds or that the defendant fraudulently converted them to her own use.
“The defendant had shown various brochures, pictures and documents highlighting her passion for fighting breast cancer as her mother and two aunts were diagnosed with the disease and she had said how early detection saved her mother. It is unfortunate that such a laudable initiative could be marred by conflict between Mrs Duke and the defendant over the ownership of the foundation. The defendant is hereby acquited and discharged.” Justice Taiwo said
Upon hearing the court’s verdict, Mbanugo burst into tears while thanking God.