In May 30, 2018, Justice Adebukola Banjoko of the FCT High Court sitting in Gudu, Abuja ‘’Crossed the Rubicon’’ by sentencing former Taraba State governor, Rev Jolly Nyame to 14 years in prison, just as she ordered refund of monies diverted by him.
Just as Julius Caesar uttered the phrase “alea iacta est”—the die is cast and crossed the Rubicon River with his army so the new Daniel in the town, Justice seems to have declared by setting aside June 12 this year to deliver judgment in the trial of another former governor, Plateau State ex-Governor Joshua Dariye (now a serving Senator). Dariye is facing a 21-count charge bordering on money laundering and diversion of Ecological Fund to the tune of N1.162 billion.
True to her promise, Justice Adebukola Banjoko on June 12, 2018 sentenced Dariye to 14 years in prison for diverting N1.162 billion state ecological funds while he was governor between 1999 and 2007.
The learned trial judge sentenced Dariye to two years in prison for criminal breach of trust and 14 years for criminal misappropriation of funds.The sentences are to run concurrently. The court gave no option of fine.
In the case of Jolly Nyame, Justice Banjoko deserves commendation and reward from NJC (Judiciary) and President Muhammadu Buhari whose administration’s major flank or mantra is anti-corruption fight. This judge has done the Judiciary proud by bringing these ex-governors’ corruption matters to conclusion. Now that Justice Banjoko has set the pace, President Buhari have what to tell the electorates, that some ex-governors whose corruption matters were deadlocked in the courts have been set on trajectory of motion by the new Daniel in the town. In short, the culpable ex-governors are already jail bound.
Justice Banjoko did not acted like Justice Abubakar Talba whose courtroom is next to hers at Gudu to ask Nyame to pay a fine of N750,000 and walk away. Instead, she insisted the 14 years jail term is without option of fine, just as he ordered Nyame to refund N1.64b she stole or diverted to Taraba state. The State in addition, to avoid re-looting of looted funds.
Curiously, NJC has recommended the elevation of Justice Abubakar Talba to the Court of Appeal. Five years after Justice Talba of the FCT High Court convicted and sentenced John Yusuf to an aggregate fine of N750, 000 that sparked public outrage, the Court of Appeal, in Abuja on March 21 this year sentenced him to 6 years imprisonment and ordered him to refund N22.9billion.
John Yusuf was one of the six federal civil servants facing prosecution for allegedly stealing N32.8 billion of police pension fund. EFCC appealed Justice Talba’s inchoate judgement and asked the appellate court to set aside the plea bargain agreement of April 26, 2013, saying discretion the Judge exercised by imposing sentence on the respondent who pleaded guilty to the three count charge in which he admitted converting an aggregate sum of over N24 billions of Police Pension fund into his personal use was wrong.
The former Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Aloma Mariam Mukhtar-led NJC slammed Justice Talba with 12 month’s suspension without salary for the non-justiciable and non-judicious discretion he exercised in the judgement of John Yusuf’s criminal matter. It is the same Justice Talba that for reasons of quota system and perhaps seniority on the Bench will dot Court of Appeal Bench before the likes of Justice Banjoko.
It would be recalled too that out of the 19 former governors, whom the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) filed fraud charges against, only two have been convicted – Lucky Igbinedion (Edo state) and James Ngilari (Adamawa state). Though their conviction was with wooly penalties.
In December 2008, a Federal High Court in Enugu fined Igbinedion N3.5m in a N25billion financial fraud case. The former governor pleaded guilty to the charge against him, and he was subsequently given a slap on the wrist. He was allowed to walk the walk of freedom.
Also, in March 2017, a High Court in Adamawa convicted Ngilari of contract fraud, but it gave him the option of picking any prison of his choice to do time – selective sentencing. However, a few days in jail, he was released in controversial circumstances. The appeal court afterwards invalidated his conviction. End of story.
Of course, the lack of conviction or delivery of justice was a huge embarrassment to the judiciary and colossal national shame on the grounds that these trials have commenced 10 years after they were filed against some politically exposed and high profile persons in our high courts all over the country. But now that Justice Banjoko is on the verge of concluding at least two of such cases, the question is, will other high court Justices take a cue with tenacity and diligently take charge of their courts, to beat the high profile cases on course of justice.
At this juncture, let’s take cursory look at the status of some of these cases that have been going on appeals to the Supreme Court on matters of interlocutory submissions only to be referred back to the trial court for commencement of the trial proper. Good enough, that will no longer be entertained as the constitution has just been amended to halt that fraudulent practice.
On Friday June 8, 2018, President Muhammadu Buhari, assented to Four Acts amending the 1999 Constitution; including the 4th ALTERATION) ACT, No. 21, which is the Alteration that ‘’amends Section 285 of the Constitution authorizing the court or tribunal to suspend Ruling on preliminary objection or interlocutory issue relating to jurisdiction and deliver same at the stage of final judgment’’.
Senate President, Bukola Saraki
While the Code of Conduct Tribunal (CCT) discharged and acquitted Bukola Saraki of the 13-count charge bordering on false assets declaration while he was the governor of Kwara state, the Court of Appeal reinstated 3-count charge and discharged him of the rest. Both Saraki and the Federal Government have appealed against the Court of Appeal Judgement at the Supreme Court; that will deliver judgements in the cross-appeal on July 6.
Supreme Court on May 17 this year ordered expeditious trial in the charge against the former Managing Director of Intercontinental Bank Plc, Erastus Akingbola.
A five-man panel of the court, in a unanimous judgment, affirmed the February 20, 2015 judgment of the Court of Appeal, Lagos, which set aside the April 2, 2012 ruling of [the Federal High Court, Lagos, quashing the charge.
Akingbola is one of the bank chiefs against who charges bordering on corruption were filed in 2009 by the Federal Government, through the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC). The then trial judge, Justice Charles Achibong quashed the charge against Akingbola, in a ruling on April 2, 2012 on the ground that the prosecution was not diligent. Justice Achibong has since been compulsorily retired by the National Judicial Council (NJC).
In its judgment, the Supreme Court ordered that the charge marked: FHC/L/443c/2009 be remitted back to the Federal High Court, Lagos for prompt hearing; just as it came down hard on Justice Achibong for his conduct in the case and for criticising the prosecution team in its handling of the case.
Justice Sidi Bage, who read the lead judgment, said Akingbola’s appeal against the Court of Appeal’s decision of February 20, 2015 lacked merit; therefore ordered that the case be remitted to the Federal High Court and be assigned to another judge in the Lagos Division for expeditions trial.
Ahmed Sani Yarima
Senator Ahmed Sani Yarima (Zamfara west) is a three-term senator and former governor of Zamfara State.
In January 2016, the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC) docked him for 19-count charge on corruption at the Zamfara State High Court in Gusau.
The commission accused him of diverting part of the N1 billion project funds for the repair of collapsed Gusau Dam and resettlement of the victims of flood to other purposes. The alleged offences were committed in 2006 and mainly in October and November of that year, according to ICPC. He pleaded not guilty to all the charges.
Senator Danjuma Goje (Gombe central) was the governor of Gombe State from 2003 to 2011. Goje, a second termer is the chairman of Senate Committee on Appropriations.
The senator, along with four others, is facing 18- count charge for conspiracy and fraudulent conversion of N25bn of state fund instituted by the EFCC.
Alhaji Abdullahi Adamu
Senator Abdullahi Adamu (Nasarawa west) was the governor of Nasarawa State from 1999 to 2007 In Feb 2010, the EFCC arrested the lawmaker for allegedly misappropriating N15billion alongside 18 others.
He was subsequently arraigned on a 149-count charge of fraud to the tune of N15 billion, before Justice Ibrahim Buba, who was later replaced in the case by Justice Marcel Awokulehin.
The lawmaker and his co-accused denied all the charges and challenged the jurisdiction of the court to try the case, arguing that the money in question belong to the people of Nasarawa State and therefore does not fall under the purview of the Federal Government and the EFCC to investigate and prosecute.
The court, however, ruled against the accused persons and ordered them to face trial. The lawmaker and his co-accused subsequently appealed the ruling to the Court of Appeal sitting in Makurdi, Benue State. The case is yet to be concluded
Orji Uzo Kalu
The Supreme Court on March 18, 2018 gave EFCC, the nod to prosecute the former Governor of Abia State, Orji Uzor Kalu on a 107-count corruption charge. The charge borders on the alleged complicity of the erstwhile governor in money laundering and illegal diversion of public funds to the tune of N5.6billion.Kalu was alleged to have perpetrated the fraud while he piloted the affairs of Abia State between 1999 and 2007. Though the anti-graft agency docked him before the Abuja Division of the Federal High Court on July 27, 2007.
The Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has resumed the trial of Orji KalU, but rather than making progress, EFCC on March 20 this year disclosed that its star witness against Orji Kalu has disappeared.
A Federal High Court sitting in Lagos has held that there is no valid charge before it in relation to the case of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) against a former governor of Enugu State, Mr Chimaroke Nnamani.
The former governor was to be re-arraigned before the court on allegations of laundering N4.5 billion, an offence said to have been committed during his tenure as Governor of Enugu State between 1999 and 2007.
The move to re-arraign the former Governor is coming 10 years after he was first arraigned alongside one of his aides, Sunday Anyaogu and 6 companies.
But the former governor had challenged the re-arraignment on the ground that the court lacked the competence to try him and determine the offences against him, especially as a plea bargain agreement had been reached between him, the other defendants and the EFCC.
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