An Abuja High Court yesterday convicted a former three-term Governor of Taraba State, Rev. Jolly Nyame of fraud to the tune of N1.64 billion and was consequently sentenced to 14-years imprisonment without an option of fine.
The judgement came about 11 years after the Federal Government docked the former governor.In the 41-count charge dated May 13, 2007, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) alleged that the former governor perpetuated the fraud between January 2005 and May 2007, through various bogus contracts.
Nyame had pleaded not guilty to the charge which he insisted was not only incompetent but brought against him in bad faith.
The trial emanated from a petition jointly signed by one Umar Baba and Kelas Obadia, entitled “Taraba State in a mess, the Commissioner of Finance goofed” written on behalf of concerned citizens of the state.
However, delivering judgement in the matter, the trial judge, Justice Adebukola Banjoko, in a 300-page judgement that lasted for over six hours, found the defendant guilty on 27 out of the 41-counts.
The court, in its pronouncement, sentenced Nyame to 14 years for criminal breach of trust, two years for misappropriation, seven years for gratification and five years for obtaining valuable public properties without consideration.
Justice Banjoko held that the sentence would run concurrently.
The court, however, discharged the defendant on 14 counts of the charge.
Before the final judgement was given, Nyame had pleaded for leniency.
The trial court, however, turned down the plea for leniency on the ground that the court was “morally outweighed by facts of the case.”
In her judgement, Justice Banjoko held: “Citizens of Taraba had elected the defendant, a clergyman, in three separate occasions to govern them, which shows a 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 people of Taraba State his actions and inactions?
“How can he justify causing such a colossal loss to the state?”
The judge further held that the defendant committed “catalogue of crimes” a month before he vacated office “while under intense searchlight from security agencies.”
She added that the court would be failing in its responsibility “if it fails to impose the full sanction.
“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, the defendant was still busy committing more crime.
“One of such crimes included N100 million the defendant withdrew from the state treasury to host former President Olusegun Obasanjo who paid a one-day visit to Taraba State in 2007.
“After a careful examination of all the evidence, prosecution tendered before the court, it is my opinion that 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 was arraigned,” Justice Banjoko added.
The court also held that Nyame “behaved like a common thief with unbridled greed,” adding that his sentence would serve as a deterrent to other public office holders.
“With the overwhelming evidence before the court, the court is left with no option than to do justice in this trial. And the justice in this trial is to impose a punishment that will serve as a deterrent to others.
“The defendant is hereby convicted of the charge before the court. He is, therefore, sentenced to 14 years for criminal breach of trust, two years for misappropriation, seven years for gratification and five years for obtaining valuable public properties without consideration.
“The terms are to run concurrently,” the court held.
The court later directed EFCC to return all the funds it recovered in the process of its investigation into the case, to the coffers of Taraba State.
The EFCC had, on November 22, 2016, closed its case after it called 14 witnesses that testified before the court.
Thereafter, the ex-governor testified in defence of himself and called additional three witnesses that attempted to exonerate him of all the allegations against him.
Nyame had, during the pendency of his trial, approached the Supreme Court seeking to quash charges against him.
He was, however, turned down by the apex court on March 5, 2010.
In the charge, he was among other things, accused of diverting N180 million out of N250 million meant for the purchase of stationeries by Taraba State Government between January and February 2005, as a reward for the award of the contract to USAB International (Nig.) Ltd 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.
Justice Banjoko had earlier noted that there was a nexus between Nyame and the fictitious N250 million contract that was awarded for the bulk purchase of stationaries and office equipment.
The court noted that Nyame had, through his then Commissioner of 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.
“The defendant gave that memo life by giving his approval,” the court held.
The court also noted that N180 million was subsequently diverted from the contract sum and handed to the ex-governor.
Though the court held that the evidence EFCC tendered against the ex-governor in respect of the transaction was “circumstantial” as no other document had his signature apart from the memo, it, however, stressed that the manner funds were approved and released from the Taraba State treasury, showed that the defendant acted in breach of his oath of office.
“It is disheartening to note that between 2004 to 2005, the Ministry of Finance in Taraba State was especially 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 stationaries,” the court held.
The Judge also held that convict repeatedly approved the release of funds to the firm despite being aware that it neither purchased the stationaries nor executed any contract.
The court held that there was no evidence that Nyame, who had within five weeks, moved over N345 million from the Taraba State coffers for the purchase of stationaries, made any attempt to prosecute the firm or to 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 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 court held.
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 with his supporters.
It further held that the defendant committed “criminal breach of trust beyond a reasonable doubt” when he approved N111 million to host guests when the Mambilla Power Project was commissioned, even as it equally found him guilty of receiving gratification to the tune of N80 million.
The court held that it was amazing that Nyame had, in his bid to defend the charge, “provided the entire arsenal for the prosecution.”
Justice Banjoko held that the defendant admitted to certain offences, seeking at the end for a plea bargain.
“He was also very inconsistent, especially regarding the presidential visit and the issue of security votes,” the court said.
Nyame had, after he was found guilty, prayed the court through his counsel, Olalekan Ojo, to temper justice with mercy, insisting he had no previous criminal record.
In his plea, the former governor told the court that he has dependents that rely on him for their subsistence.
Ojo, however, prayed the court to punish the convict by imposing fine rather than imprisonment.
Prosecuting counsel, Oluwaleke Atolagbe, urged the court to impose the maximum sanction to serve as a deterrent to other public office holders.
Aside the former finance commissioner in Taraba State during Nyame’s tenure, Tutare, among those that testified before the court included a compliance officer with one of the banks, Mr. Olubunmi Ogunode, as well as the Permanent Secretary to Taraba State government, Mr. Dennis Okuma Nev.
In his own witness, Nev told the court that he was, at a time, compelled to raise three separate memos for the withdrawal of N100 million, which he said was used by Nyame to host former President Olusegun Obasanjo when he visited the state in 2001.
Similarly, an Accountant with the Rural Electrification Board in Jalingo, Taraba State, Mr. Abdulrahman Mohammed, narrated before the court, how the ex-governor used his name to withdraw N282 million from a bank, using 20 separate cheques.
Mohammed said the illicit transactions took place between 2005 and 2007 when he functioned as an accountant in charge of Taraba State liaison office in Abuja. (New Telegraph)