A Federal High court in federal capital territory specifically in Gudu District on Wednesday had sentenced a former governor of Taraba state, jolly Nyame to 14 years in prison over 1.64billion fraud, criminal breach of trust and misappropriation.
Justice Adebukola Banjoko’s Judgment marked the end of about 11 year’s trial which would be the first full-blown criminal proceedings to be conducted in a Nigeria court and ended in a guilty verdict.
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 a 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.
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 the 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 the 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 authorizing 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 a 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 a 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 governor, 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.