A Federal High Court sitting in Abuja has on Wednesday sentenced former Taraba State Governor Jolly Nyame to 28 years in prison without an option of fine.
Justice Adebukola Banjoko convicted the ex-governor on 27 out of the 41 counts contained in the charge filed against him by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) in July 2007.
Nyame was governor from 1991 to 1993 and 1999 to 2007.
The breakdown of the sentence is as follows: 14 years upon conviction for criminal breach of trust; seven years for receiving gratification; five years for obtaining valuable public properties without consideration, and two years for criminal misappropriation.
The judge said the sentences would run concurrently, implying that the ex-governor is to spend 14 years in prison.
Justice Banjoko, who said the defendant betrayed his claim to be a clergyman and Reverend, wondered why it was only the ex-governor that was prosecuted in view of the level of impunity displayed while Nyame was in office.
The judge, in the over 300-page judgment, which she read for over six hours, said after carefully examining all the evidence tendered by the prosecution, she had no option but to conclude that it was “either Nyame entered into office without a corrupt mind, but later became corrupt or he was corrupt ab-initio”.
The judge said: “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 was arraigned.”
She said 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.”
The judge noted that one of such crimes included the N100m the defendant withdrew from the state’s coffers, ostensibly to host former President Olusegun Obasanjo, who paid a one-day visit to Taraba State in 2007.
Justice Banjoko said there was a nexus between Nyame and the fictitious N250 million contract that was awarded for the bulk purchase of stationery and office equipment.
The judge noted that Nyame had through his then Commissioner for Finance, Alhaji Abubakar Tutare, approved a memo for that contract, which was awarded to a firm, Saman Global Ventures, on January 1, 2005, sidelining key officials of the Ministry of Finance in the process.
She said “the defendant gave that memo life by giving his approval”, noting that N180 million was subsequently diverted from the contract sum and handed to the ex-governor.
The judge noted that the evidence against the ex-governor in respect of the transaction was “circumstantial” because no other document had his signature, except the memo, she said the manner funds were approved and released from the state’s treasury, showed that the defendant acted in breach of his oath of office.
“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 diversion. There was no evidence of purchase of the stationery”, Justice Banjoko held.
Besides, the Judge held that Nyame repeatedly approved 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 N345m from the Taraba State coffers for purchase of stationery, made any attempt to prosecute the firm or to set up a panel of inquiry when the fraud was brought to his attention.
The judge said 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.
“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 fund 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 jude said.
Justice Banjoko added that the defendant committed “criminal breach of trust beyond reasonable doubt” by approving N111m to host guests when the Mambilla Power Project was inaugurated.
The judge, finding Nyame guilty of receiving N80m gratification, said she was amazed that the defendant, in an effort to defend the charge, “provided the entire arsenal for the prosecution”.
She noted that Nyame was also very inconsistent, particularly on issues surrounding the presidential visit and security votes.
The judge rejected the prayer by the defence for an option of fine.
Justice Banjoko said she rejected Nyame’s plea for leniency because of the overwhelming evidence and facts of the case.
The judge added: “The 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. 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 the people of Taraba State his actions and inactions? How can he justify causing such a colossal loss to the state?”
Justice Banjoko said Nyame committed a “catalogue of crimes” a month before he vacated office, “while under intense searchlight from security agencies’’.
She said the court would be failing in its responsibility “if it fails to impose the full sanction”.
The judge, who noted that the defendant “behaved like a common thief with unbridled greed”, said the sentence passed on him would serve as a deterrent to other public office holders.
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 judgment came about 11 years after Nyame, who was governor between May 29, 1999 and May 29, 2007, was first arraigned on the 41-count charge in which he was accused of looting the state’s funds to the tune of N1.64billion.
Before the court sat, indication that a major development was in the offing was evident in the massive security within and around the hitherto quiet court premises.
After being searched at the court’s main entrance, visitors were again frisked before being allowed into the courtroom.
Dressed in a dark brown kaftan with a cap to match, Nyame entered the courtroom at about 9.02am.
Justice Banjoko came into the courtroom around 9.40am. She first attended a case before directing that the case involving Nyame be called. It was around 9.46am.
When the case was called, Nyame, who sat on the second-to-the-last row on the right side of the courtroom, walked to the dock located on the left hand side of the courtroom, not far from where the judge sat.
The judge began reading the judgment at about 9.51am. Nyame sat calmly in the dock.
At a point when the judge announced the conviction of the defendant, Nyame, who had all along lowered his head, raised it and looked towards the judge.
There was sudden murmuring in the court, which was filled up mainly by the defendant’s associates, supporters and friends.
After convicting the defendant, Justice Banjoko stood down the case for some time, but returned later to pronounce the sentence.
Immediately the judge rose after pronouncing the sentence, Nyame, who was still sitting in the dock, was surrounded by armed security personnel.
By 4pm, the security personnel and prison officials were still awaiting the completion of documents before taking the ex-governor, who looked troubled, to prison.
The EFCC charged Nyame with 41 counts of criminal breach of trust, criminal misappropriation, taking gratification and obtaining valuable things without consideration.
The prosecution’s case against the ex-governor was mainly on the allegation of his diversion of N1.64bn of Taraba State’s funds under his watch.
In the course of trial, the prosecution, led by Rotimi Jacobs (SAN), called 14 witnesses and closed its case on November 22, 2016.
Nyame called four witnesses in his defence, including himself.
The judge is expected to deliver judgment on June 12 this year, in the trial of former Plateau State Governor, Joshua Dariye (now a Senator).
Dariye is facing a 21-count charge bordering on money laundering and diversion of Ecological Fund to the tune of N1.162 billion.