By Eric Elezuo
This is not the best of times for ex-governors undergoing prosecution for one financial offence or another as the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission is beginning to get convictions against offenders.
This gradual turn of events for Nigerian former governors may portend a good wind that blows everyone a lot of good. In a space of two weeks, two former governors bit the dust after a long drawn trial when they were sentenced to 14 years imprisonment each by Justice Adebukola Banjoko of the Abuja Federal High Court.
First to be painted with the mud of political waterloo was the ‘reverend’ former governor of Taraba State, Jolly Nyame, who was convicted for stealing N1.6 billion belonging to Taraba State.
The ex-governor, whose trial started in 2007, was convicted on a total of 27 out of the 41 counts preferred against him, and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment with the highest being 14 years for offences bordering on criminal breach of trust, criminal misappropriation, taking valuable thing without consideration and receiving gratification as a public officer.
Luckily enough for the Pentecostal clergy, who betrayed the dictates of his calling, the sentences are to run concurrently.
In her ruling, the no nonsense judge, Justice Banjoko, who took between 9.51am and about 2.05pm to read out her judgement, sentenced him to the maximum punishment of 14 years for criminal breach of trust, without an option of fine.
She sentenced him to the maximum sentence of two years for misappropriation, seven years for receiving gratification and five years for “obtaining valuable thing without consideration.”
The sentences were the maximum provided by the laws under which Nyame was charged in May 2007.
The judge, while dismissing his lawyer’s plea for mercy, described the act of the convict as likely to be the most “audacious” by any chief executive of a state.
Barely two weeks after the celebrated trial, Justice Banjoko slammed another 14 years maximum jail term on another former state chief executive, Chief Joshua Dariye of Plateau State.
Dariye was convicted on 11 counts bordering on criminal breach of trust and sentenced to 14years imprisonment, the maximum sentence provided for by the law. He was also convicted on four counts bordering on criminal misappropriation and sentenced to two years imprisonment, the maximum allowed. The judge however held that the sentences would run concurrently, meaning Dariye would spend a maximum of 14 years in prison.
Aside the ecological funds, Dariye was also found guilty of criminal breach of trust as regards N204 million, N53.6 million and N21 million being funds of Plateau State Government.
The court ordered the EFCC to repatriate the N80m and other funds recovered during investigation to the coffers of Plateau State government. The court however did not make any pronouncement on the N100m said to be paid to Marine Float, a company said to be owned by former Vice President Atiku Abubakar, as the court was told EFCC was still investigating the matter.
In the over six-hour-long judgment, Justice Banjoko held that the evidence of Inspector Peter Clerk, a retired officer of the Metropolitan Police (London), revealed that Dariye jumped bail and was declared wanted but that the Metropolitan Police had to relax their pursuit of him, when they were informed the EFCC had started his prosecution. He had told the court how investigation of fraudulent activities on Dariye’s nine accounts with Barclays Bank had led to the former governor’s arrest and questioning on money laundering.
The court was told that the funds seized from Dariye were later forfeited and repatriated to Nigeria through the Attorney General of the Federation.
While sentencing him, Banjoko held that the court wonders at the level of “systematic stealing of over half a billion from the state’s accounts,” adding that “Even through the statements of accounts tendered before the court, there were random dates the defendant (Dariye) was richer than the state; he could bail out the state”.
The N1.1bn meant for special ecological intervention in the state, was spent as follows: N100m for PDP S/West collected by Yomi Edu, former Minister of Special Duties; N100m for PDP N/East credited to Marine Float; N66m for PDP in Plateau shared among the 274 wards.
Others are former deputy Senate president, Ibrahim Mantu who pocketed N10m; Pinnacle Communications got N250m and Ebenezer Retina Ventures, a company owned by Dariye was credited with N176m; and N80m paid to Union Savings & Homes was later traced to Dr. Kingsley Ikuma, the Permanent Secretary of Ecological Funds as bribe to secure the release of the cheque.
Dariye, however, claimed he was misled, and questioned if there is any saint in Nigeria.
Basking in the euphoria surrounding the two convictions, the EFCC says it is intensifying its efforts to bring to book not only ex-governors, but as many that has siphoned Nigeria’s commonwealth. It maintained that the two convicted ex-governors are members of the ruling party, All Progressives Congress (APC), a situation that vindicates the anti-graft agency of complicity in its activities.
EFCC spokesman, Mr. Wilson Uwujaren, said the convictions had “put a lie to the often repeated charge by critics and cynics that the EFCC (the prosecutor) is lukewarm in prosecuting chieftains of the ruling party for corruption’’.
It would be recalled that Dariye won the election to the Senate on the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) but decamped to the ruling party when he realized he was heading to prison. His party affiliation has not helped matters.
The conviction has given the commission the impetus to continue the prosecution of others, believing that they stand a chance of success.
Former governors Orji Kalu of Abia, Shema of Katsina State, Jonah Jang of Plateau among others was still undergoing prosecution in court by the EFCC irrespective of the political parties they belong.
“Rather than entertain idle gossips who thrive on haranguing the EFCC with charges of selectivity, these two recent convictions offer Nigerians the opportunity to better appreciate the efforts and sacrifices of the commission,” the EFCC spokesman said
He said, “Mistakes were made, my Lord, should this man be punished by our mistakes? My Lord, appeals against your judgment hardly succeed. When we get there (appellate and apex courts), they tell us you were right in your judgment, so we are appealing for a non-custodial sentencing.”
It would also be recalled that a former Governor of Adamawa State, Mr. James Ngilari and former Jigawa State governor, Alhaji Sule Lamido, were once convicted, but let loose later.
On July 9 and 10, the Katsina State High Court will commence ruling on the matter brought before it by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), over alleged money laundering levelled against the former Governor of the state, Ibrahim Shehu Shema, to the tune of N11 billion.
The presiding Judge of the Court, Justice Ibrahim Maikaita, reserved the ruling on the issue after intense arguments by the legal teams of the EFCC and that of the former governor and three others.
Former Abia and Plateau states governors, Orji Uzo Kalu and Jonah Jang respectively are in and out of court answering questions on embezzlement and other sundry crimes as brought about by the EFCC.
The way it is now, the prisons may begin to swell up with the presence of former state executives. This is provided that straightforward judges like Justice Banjoko, who appeals against her judgments ‘hardly succeed’ will preside at all times.