Chris Steven, Abuja
A man identified as Ndagba Ibn Muhammad has been sentenced to 217 years imprisonment by the High Court of Niger state sitting in Minna for defrauding over 200 intending pilgrims during the 2011 Hajj exercise.
The Court found the accused quilty on each of the 31- count charge preferred against him but will spend seven years as the count will run concurrent.
The accused who is the Managing Director of Lanle Travels and Tours Limited was dragged before the High Court by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC,) following complaints and petition from the victims to the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) that he collected sums ranging from N650,000 to N700,000 to help secure Visa and airlift them to Saudi Arabia for the 2011 Hajj exercise which he failed to do and neither refunded their money.
The offence is punishable Under Section 1 (3) of the Advance Fee Fraud and Other Related Offences Act.2006.
Justice Aliyu M. Mayaki in his 29 page verdict said the accused has committed an offense under Section 1 (3) of the Advance Fee Fraud and other Related Offences Act, 2006, “In the light of this, the first accused is sentenced to a term of seven years imprisonment for each of the 31 Offences as captured in the counts. The sentences shall run concurrently”.
It would be recalled that the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), on October 9th 2011 preferred a 31 – count charge of intent to defraud and under false pretence of helping about 300 intending pilgrims to Saudi Arabia against Malam Ndagba Muhammad and his company following NAHCON’s petition to the anti- graft agency.
The accused who collected various sum of money ranging from N695,000 to N700,000 under the false pretence of helping intending pilgrims to secure Hajj Visa, airlifting them to Jeddah and accommodating them in Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.
In his reaction, Chairman of NAHCON, Barrister Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammed, hailed the judgement as a landmark in the fight against Scam in Hajj operation adding that search light would be beamed on States pilgrims welfare boards too to sanitize the industry practice.
According to him, the Commission would administer the same dose to officials of state pilgrims welfare boards or agencies who might be caught in the Web of fraudulent practice in the administration of Hajj affairs.
He however urged people not to fall quickly into the trap of cheap Hajj and Umrah offer or package without verification from NAHCON.
“We have a public database that can be accessed on our website for customers to check the legitimacy, status and allocation of seats to registered Tour operators.” he said.