After 11 years of trial, a high court of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, yesterday, sentenced former Governor of Taraba State, Reverend Jolly Nyame, to 14 years imprisonment without an option of fine, after he was convicted of money laundering charges. The ex-governor was arraigned by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) for allegedly looting public funds to the tune of N1.64 billion.
He was, among other things, accused of diverting N180 million out of N250 million meant for the purchase of stationery by the Taraba State government, between January and February 2005, as a reward for the award of the contract to USAB International (Nigeria) Limited, and thereby committed an offence punishable under Section 115, 309 and 315 of the Penal Code Act, Cap. 532, Laws of Federation of Nigeria, 1990.
The court rejected Nyame’s plea for leniency, saying it was “morally outweighed by facts of the case.” Justice Adebukola Banjoko, who delivered the judgement, said: “As a reverend, he must have been seen as an epitome of morality, piety and everything good. How will Reverend Nyame begin to explain to people of Taraba State his actions and inactions? How can he justify causing such a colossal loss to the state? Citizens of Taraba had elected the defendant, a clergyman, on three separate occasions to govern them, which shows constant level of trust. The expectation must have been so high.”
Banjoko sitting in Gudu district of the FCT, in a 300-page judgement, found Nyame guilty on 27 out of the 41 counts of money laundering brought against him by the anti-graft agency.
In the judgement that lasted six hours, the judge sentenced Nyame to 14 years for criminal breach of trust, two years for misappropriation, seven years for taking gratification and five years for obtaining valuable public property without consideration. Although the former governor was discharged on 14 counts, the court held that the sentence would run concurrently.
Meanwhile, the court directed the EFCC to return all the funds it recovered in the process of its investigation into the case to the coffers of Taraba State.
The court further held that Nyame committed a “catalogue of crimes” a month before he vacated office “while under intense searchlight from security agencies.” The judge held that the court would be failing in its responsibility “if it fails to impose the full sanction,” adding that the evidence before the court showed that, while officials that served under the defendant were returning their loot to the EFCC after they were questioned, Nyame “was still busy committing more crime.”
Such crimes, according to the court, included the N100 million the former governor withdrew from the state’s treasury to host former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who paid a one-day visit to Taraba State in 2007.
She said after a careful examination of all the evidence tendered before the court by the prosecution, it was “either the defendant entered into office without a corrupt mind and became corrupted, or he was corrupted ab-initio.
“There was such a crazy level of corruption in the air in Taraba State Ministry of Finance. It is, however, amazing that none of the officials were arraigned,” Banjoko added.
She held that Nyame “behaved like a common thief with unbridled greed,” noting that his sentence would serve as a deterrent to other public office holders: “It is disheartening to note that, between 2004 and 2005, the Ministry of Finance in Taraba State was specially an enclave, it was a den of criminal activities best illustrated with Ali Baba and the 40 thieves. The court finds the defendant guilty as charged. The clear purpose of the money was diverted. There was no evidence of purchase of the stationery.”
The judge further held that Nyame repeatedly approved the release of funds to the firm despite being aware that it neither purchased the stationery nor executed any contract. She said there was no evidence that Nyame, who had within five weeks moved over N345 million from Taraba State’s coffers for purchase of stationery, made any attempt to prosecute the firm or set up a panel of inquiry when the fraud was brought to his attention.
“The progenitor of this impunity was no one else than the defendant himself. The defendant cannot feign ignorance of this colossal fraud. He who approves must be accountable to what he approved. The defendant had the dominion over the state’s funds and only him could say ‘open sesame’ to the vault of Taraba State. The defendant cannot escape responsibility or cling to the thin plank of mere approval,” the judge said.
The court also held that the defendant “dishonestly” diverted public funds through the Taraba State Liaison Office, on the guise that it was used for the purchase of rice that was shared to his supporters. It also held that the defendant committed “criminal breach of trust beyond reasonable doubt” when he approved N111 million to host guests when the Mambilla Power Project was inaugurated, even as it equally found him guilty of receiving gratification to the tune of N80 million.
In a charge dated May 13, 2007, the EFCC told the court that the former governor perpetrated the fraud between January 2005 and May 2007, through various bogus contracts. Nyame had pleaded not guilty to the charges, which he insisted were not only incompetent but brought against him in bad faith.