N1.64bn Fraud: Ex-Taraba Gov, Rev Nyame bags 14 years jail term
A High Court of the Federal Capital Territory sitting at Gudu, on Wednesday, convicted and sentenced the former Governor of Taraba State, Reverend Jolly Nyame to 14 years imprisonment without the option of fine.
Jolly Nyame Trial Justice Adebukola Banjoko found the defendant guilty on 27 out of the 41-count money laundering charge the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, preferred against him.
Specifically, the court sentenced Nyame to 14 years for criminal breach of trust, 2 years for misappropriation, 7 years for gratification and 5 years for obtaining valuable public properties without consideration.
The court held that the sentence would run concurrently, even as it discharged the defendant on 14 counts of the charge.
Justice Banjoko who gave the verdict after she turned down Nyame’s plea for leniency, said she was “morally outweighed by facts of the case”.
“Citizens of Taraba had elected the defendant, a clergyman, in 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 people of Taraba State his actions and inactions? “How can he justify causing such a collosal loss to the state?” the Judge queried.
The judge who maintained that the defendant committed “catalogue of crimes” a month before he vacated office “while under intense searchlight from security agencies”, said the court would be failing in its responsibility “if it fails to impose the full sanction”.
According the judge, evidence before the court showed that while officials that served under the defendant were returning their loot to the EFCC after they were questioned, he said Nyame “was still busy committing more crime”.
The court stressed that one of such crimes included N100million the defendant withdrew from the state treasury to host former President Olusegun Obasanjo who paid a one-day visit to Taraba State in 2007.
The judge said after she carefully examined all the evidence EFCC tendered before the court, she concluded that 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”, Justice Banjoko added.
She held that Nyame “behaved like a common theif with unbridled greed”, saying his sentence would serve as a deterrent to other public office holders.
The court 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 judgment came eleven years after Nyame who held sway as Governor of Taraba State from May 29, 1999, to May 29, 2007, was docked by the anti-graft agency over allegation that he looted public funds to the tune of N1.64billion.
The prosecution, in the charge dated May 13, 2007, told the court 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 culminated 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. 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 exenorate him of all the allegations against him.
Nyame whose trial commenced since 2005, earlier went to the Supreme Court to quash charges against him. He was turned down by the apex court on March 5, 2010.
He was among other things, accused of diverting N180million out of N250million 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.
Meantime, in the over 300-paged judgment that lasted over six hours, trial Justice Banjoko said there was a nexus between Nyame and the fictitious N250m contract that was awarded for the bulk purchase of stationaries and office equipment.
Justice Banjoko 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, noting that N180m was subsequently diverted from the conctract sum and handed to the ex-governor.
Though the court held that 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 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 stationary”, 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 stationaries 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 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 collosal 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 responsibilty or cling to the thin plank of mere approval”.
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 N111m to host guests when the Mambilla Power Project was commissioned, even as it equally found him guilty of receiving gratification to the tune of N80m.
The court said it was amazed that Nyame had in his bid to defend the charge, “provided the entire arsenal for the prosecution”. It observed 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”.
Nyame had after he was found him giulty, begged the court through his lawyer to temper Justice with mercy, insisting he had no previous criminal record.
He told the court that he has dependants that rely on him for their subsistence.
The defence lawyer said the court could punish his client by imposing fine against him rather than imprisonment. Nevertheless, EFCC’s lawyer, 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 Zenith Bank Plc, Mr. Olubunmi Ogunode, as well as the Permanent Secretary to Taraba State government, Mr Dennis Okuma Nev.
Nev told the court that he was at a time, compelled to raise three separate memos for the withdrawal of N100m, 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 N282m from Zenith Bank PLC, 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.
Nyame had through his lawyer, Mr. Charles Edosomwan, SAN, prayed the court to strike out the charge and discharge him on the basis that the prosecution was unable to effectively discharge the burden of proof placed on it by the law.
However, in a ruling on January 14, 2016, Justice Banjoko held that Nyame’s contention was bereft of merit.
The Judge further dismissed a no-case-submission that was made by the defendant who contended that EFCC failed to by way of credible evidence, nail him to the alleged fraud.