- N1.64bn Fraud: Ex-Taraba Gov, Nyame, Jailed for 14 Years
Justice Adebukola Banjoko of the High Court of the Federal Capital Territory in Gudu, Abuja, on Wednesday sentenced a former governor of Taraba State, Jolly Nyame, to 14 years’ imprisonment for his acts of criminal breach of trust and misappropriation of the sum of N1.64bn belonging to the state.
The judgment marked the end of about 11 years’ trial which would be the first full-blown criminal proceedings to be conducted in a Nigerian court and ended in a guilty verdict sending a former governor to jail for a period as long as 14 years for corruption.
Nyame, whose name goes with the appellation of a church title of “Reverend.” was convicted on a total of 27 out of the 41 counts preferred against him.
He was convicted and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment with the highest being 14 years for offences bordering on criminal breach of trust, criminal misappropriation, and taking valuable thing without consideration and receiving gratification as a public officer.
The judge sentenced him to the maximum punishment of 14 years for criminal breach of trust without an option of fine, two years for criminal misappropriation; seven years for receiving gratification and five years for “obtaining valuable thing without consideration.”
The sentences were the maximum provided by the law under which the convict was charged in May 2007.
There was no option of fine on any of the counts.
But the sentences, according to the judge, are to run concurrently.
The court also ordered that all the funds previously recovered by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission from aides to the ex-governor and other government officials involved in the scam be forfeited to the Taraba State Government.
Justice Banjoko read the main judgment for a period of about four hours spanning from 9.51am to about 2.05pm on Wednesday.
Her facial expression slid from mere smiles to even subdued laughter throughout the period she read the judgment.
She even sometimes took a break from reading the prepared judgment from her laptop to lay some comic emphasis on some points.
Perhaps infected by the calm atmosphere entrenched in the courtroom by the judge’s tone, Nyame maintained a relaxed countenance as he was seated in the dock with his head slightly thrown back resting against the wall throughout the five-hour proceedings.
Intermittently, his glances oscillated back and forth from the direction of the bench to that of the audience.
Light complexioned, tall and well-built; the convict was dressed in a dark brown kaftan with a cap to match.
He was asked by the judge to stand up when the sentences were being read.
His face did not give off any sign of anxiety throughout the proceedings even after the sentences were passed on him.
In her judgment, the judge faulted the convict’s attempt to distance himself from the company, Salman Global Ventures Limited, and its Managing Director, Ibrahim Abubakar, who on the instructions of the ex-governor, received a total sum N250m for stationery in January 2005, N25m for the same purpose in February 2005, and 20m for the same purpose in October 2005.
The items were never supplied to the state, the judge said.
She said, “The totality of the evidence adduced” in the case showed that Nyame had a close relationship with the company’s MD and could only have been “the enabler of these transactions.”
The judge, who noted that there was no contractual agreement between Salman Global Venture Limited and the state government, yet the company repeatedly received payments for the supplies which it never carried out.
She added that the procedure preceding the release of the funds to the company was fraught with sidelining key officials that should be involved as well as breaches of the state’s financial regulations and the mode of award of the contracts stipulated in the memo which the ex-governor signed for their approval.
The sum of N250m was approved by the convict, according to the judge on December 30, 2004.
“By this, the defendant gave his blessing to that memo barely a day to the end of the year precisely on December 30, 2004,” noting that the item the money was meant for had been part of the budget of the state for year 2004.”
She said Nyame could not feign ignorance that the items were not supplied yet went on to sanction successive approvals for the same company to supply the items.
“Had this not stopped, only God knows what would have happened to Taraba State now,” she said.
She held, “There was no way the defendant having a sense of responsibility would have granted another approval after the N250m was approved and the stationery and office equipment it was meant for were not delivered.”
She noted that the ex-governor neither raised any question, issued any query, raised any commission of inquiry, filed any suit against the company nor attempt to file charges against the company.
The judge also noted the fact that Salman Global Ventures Limited did not bid to participate in the contract and was not even qualified to participate in the direct labour mode for the supply of the items which was the mode stipulated on the memo signed by the governor, and the relationship which the Managing Director of the company had with the ex-governor, showed that the convict was a beneficiary of the scam.
Nyame was also convicted for was also receiving about N80m as gratification from Salman Global Ventures Limited.
He was also convicted of authorising the payment of over N100m for the hosting of the then President in the state in April 2005.
He was also found guilty of payment of N24m meant for the “purchase of grains for the Taraba State Local Government Areas and some interest groups.”
Although Nyame had claimed that rice was purchased from a rice seller in Lagos, delivered to the state’s liaison office in Abuja and later delivered to the state in Jalingo, the state capital, the judge said there was no evidence to back the claim.
She added that the convict authorised the payment of about N345m within five months to Salmon Global Ventures Limited without delivering the items the money was meant for.
Between 2.05am and 2.32pm, the judge listened to the plea for mercy made on behalf of the ex-governor by his counsel, Mr. Olalekan Ojo, and the objection to the plea by the EFCC’s lawyer, Mr. Oluwaleke Atolagbe.
Ojo, noting that his client “selflessly served the good people of Taraba State from 1999 to 2007,” urged the court to be lenient in imposing the sentences on the grounds that his client was a first offender and a family man.
But Atolagbe said the suggestion that a man found guilty of breach of trust and misappropriating huge sums of money served his people selflessly was far from the truth.
He urged the court to impose the sentences that would “meet the aggravating factors” such as the “detrimental effect” of the offences on the people of Taraba State, the effects on the economy of the state and the prevalence of such corrupt conduct among public officials in the society.
The judge thereafter took a short break and receded to her chambers at about 2.32pm.
She returned to the courtroom at about 3.03pm to impose the sentences for all the 27 counts on which she had found the ex-governor guilty.
The convict was driven away in a convoy of prison vehicles at about 3.47pm on Wednesday.
Earlier dismissing the convict’s plea for mercy, Justice Banjoko, said she was “morally outraged by the facts of this case” describing the conduct of the defendant, a Reverend and a Christian as audacious.
She noted that Nyame being “a first offender” and “a family man” as noted by his lawyer should ordinarily be part of considerations in sentencing.
“But I must say, I was morally outraged by the facts of this case,” she said.
Justice Banjoko noted that the people of Taraba State invested high level of trust in the convict when they first voted him as governor in 1991, again in 1999 and 2007.
“The level of trust must have been so high,” she said.
“The convict is a Reverend, which means he is a Christian. He is expected to show high level of honesty, piety and integrity.
“How will Reverend Jolly Nyame begin to tell the people of Taraba State and the whole world to justify his action and inaction? How will he justify this colossal loss of the state under his watch?”
She also noted that while the EFCC was investigating the convict’s aides who were also returning part of the looted funds in the process “to his knowledge,” the convict as “an unrepentant sinner” still continued committing the crimes.
Justice Banjoko said in a particular day in April 2007, barely one month to the end of his tenure as govenor, Nyame spent over N100m to host the then President.
The judge said, “He will perhaps be the most audacious chief executive Nigeria ever had. He was still continuing to commit the offences while under an intense searchlight of the law enforcement agency.
“Over N100m was spent in a day for the visit of one man who was the President who is not God in April 2007, when he was expected to vacate office in May 2007.
“This is just one in the catalogue of the crimes he committed.”
She said there was “crazy level of corruption in the air in the state” in Nyame’s administration.
Justice Banjoko expressed concern that none of the other state officials, including the then Commissioner for Finance, Alhaji Abubakar Tature, who was a major participant in the scam and was later elected as senator, was charged in any court.
“Rev. Jolly Nyame encouraged other officers to engage in reckless misappropriation,” she said, adding, “There is no legal or moral justification for that level of outright stealing.”
“The defendant behaved like a common thief,” the judge said.
She also said being “the first case of its kind,” the court must impose heavy sanction “that will hopefully serve as a deterrent to other public officers.”
The EFCC had in May 2007 charged Nyame with 41 counts of criminal breach of trust, criminal misappropriation, taking gratification and obtaining valuable thing without consideration.
The trial began to have some speed when the Supreme Court laid the defendant’s appeal against the validity of the charges to rest by dismissing it in 2016.
Sign of good things to come, says Sagay
Reacting to the judgment, the Chairman, Presidential Advisory Committee Against Corruption, Prof. Itse Sagay (SAN), described the judgment as a sign of good things to come.
Sagay said since the Administration of Criminal Justice Act was signed into law in 2015, it had become difficult for senior advocates defending influential Nigerians to exploit the justice system.
The PACAC chairman noted that the case against the former Taraba State governor began over eight years ago but his lawyers continued to frustrate the case.
The senior advocate said, “What has happened is that we are beginning to feel the effect of the ACJA. Jolly Nyame’s trial started around 2007 and his lawyers did the usual by trying to sabotage and subvert the process of trial by filing several applications and that was why it took so long.
“Soon, you will begin to hear about more convictions. This marks an end of an era where senior advocates deliberately subvert justice in this country because of the huge pay they receive from the proceeds of crime.”
Sagay said the convict would not be released from prison except on strict health grounds.
“He cannot be free. He will be in prison. The only thing he can do is to apply for bail and that is almost impossible because you must be able to establish that the state of your health is extremely bad that your life may be endangered if you remain in prison,” he said.
Falana hails EFCC, judge, ACJA
A human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), also hailed the judgment, noting that the case was concluded on a good note.
He commended the judge for her courage and integrity and the EFCC for its perseverance.
Falana said, “At long last, the case was concluded on a good note. For almost a decade the case was suspended through stay of proceedings.
“But for the abolition of stay of proceedings by Section 306 of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act, 2015, the case would have been suspended again and again.
“I congratulate the trial judge for her courage and integrity.
“I commend the EFCC for its perseverance.
“I am sure that with the conviction of more VIPs, the prisons will no longer be peopled by the hoi polloi alone.”
Prosecutors have done well – Ubani
Also, the Second Vice-President of the Nigerian Bar Association, Mr. Monday Ubani, said it “means there is hope if we do things right in this country.”
He hailed the investigating teams, the prosecutors for doing “a thorough job” and the judiciary for doing justice.
Ubani added, “This is what we have been saying that if the investigators do thorough investigations and the prosecutors do the right thing, the judiciary does not have the choice but to send the corrupt persons to jail.
“But don’t let us forget that the defendant has the right to appeal all the way to the Supreme Court. It is after the case has passed through the crucible of the appellate courts and the judgment remains intact that we can begin to boast that we are doing the right thing.”
We’ll react soon, says PDP
When contacted, the National Publicity Secretary of the Peoples Democratic Party, Mr. Kola Ologbodinyan said, “We will make a public statement soon.”
Attempts to get a reaction from the spokesman for the All Progressives Congress, Mallam Bolaji Abdullahi, were unsuccessful. Calls to his mobile telephone were neither picked nor returned.
A response to a text message sent to him was still being expected as of the time of filing this report at 8.02pm.