An Appeal Court judge, Emmanuel Agim, says public office holders convicted of fraud deserve the death penalty for the effect of their crimes on the society.
Mr Agim expressed this view while delivering judgement in an appeal brought by a former governor of Taraba State, Jolly Nyame.
Mr Nyame approached the appellate court after a High Court of the Federal Capital Territory presided over by Adebukola Banjoko in May convicted him of fraudulently diverting N1.64 billion and sentenced him to a total of 14 years imprisonment.
Mr Nyame had asked the appeal court to rule that he was not a public servant and so was not bound by public service rules.
He also argued that the lower court agreed with the submission of the prosecution, despite the alleged failure of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to prove a valid case of fraud against him.
In the appeal court ruling, read by Mr Agim, the court said since the crux of Mr Nyame’s appeal borders on the lower court’s alleged failure to properly execute its judgement from evidences before it, the appellate court can only access the merits of the judgment delivered at the lower court.
Illegal Payment To Firm
After assessing the various evidences provided by the prosecution on millions of fund transferred to a private company, Salvan Global, on the instructions of Mr Nyame, the judge said the former governor made several transfers to the company despite obvious failure of the private company to provide the requisite services.
“At that time, Salvan Global had not provided even a pin,” Mr Agim said while noting another payment made to the company’s account after previous ones not accounted for.
Mr Agim added that while Mr Nyame claimed he did not partake in the diversion of the said fund, government officials under his watch confirmed receipt of various sums in fraudulent transactions and Mr Nyame ratified the actions of those government officials by describing them as competent and above board.
“That amounts to ratification of the fraud they committed,” Mr Agim said.
Admission Of fraud
Mr Agim further affirmed the decision of the trial court that the statement accredited to Mr Nyame where he offered to enter into a plea bargain with the prosecution, amounted to his admission of the crime.
“The trial court held that the statement amounts to admission. I have looked at it. My view is that it amounts to an admission,” Mr Agim ruled.
Fraudulent Rice Purchase From Lagos
Mr Agim also assessed information contained in the lower court’s document regarding a fraudulent contract with a rice supplier in Lagos.
“He also said that the cash was given to him and that the rice supplier supplied the rice.
“He was asked what the name of the rice supplier was, and he said he didn’t know.”
The judge added that records before the court showed that there was no evidence that rice arrived from Lagos from the unknown supplier.
“The court found it reasonable to disbelieve him and I think that disbelieve was a sound judgement,” Mr Agim ruled.
Mr Agim noted another illegal transaction to the tune of N101 million and questioned the mode of transfer as well as its purpose.
Regarding Mr Nyame’s submission about security votes, Mr Agim had this to say.
“He said that the security votes given to him as governor does not need to be accounted for and cannot be stolen. The trial court did not agree with that.”
Warning On Public Fund
“For any public office holder; if you are given funds; whether for security votes or however so called, you have a legal duty to account for the money.
“If you fail to account for it, you have a duty to return it to the state coffers as unused. If you fail to neither do both, it amounts to a criminal breach of trust.
“He admitted to keeping the money. That is one clear case of admission of guilt.”
On Mr Nyame’s submission that he is not a public servant, Mr Agim said the provisions of the law have proved beyond argument that a sitting governor is a public servant.
The judge added that activities of mostly fraudulent officials which have caused massive cases of poverty, unemployment and increase in crime rates among other things, make it justifiable for them to be awarded capital punishment.
“This should go as a notice to all of us; we have a penchant for appropriating to ourselves funds that are meant for public purposes.
“A lot of us are guilty of that. The long arm of the law does not expire. It will take on all those found guilty.
“The fact that the crimes were duly committed by public servants; their impact on the people and security of Taraba State justifies a capital punishment.
“The appellant is a Christian religious leader; a preacher and therefore a man of God. The manner of diversion shows a callous criminal mind. But the courts are bound by law not to exceed laid down provisions,” Mr Agim ruled.
The judge however noted the provision of the Administration of Criminal Justice Act that first time offenders should not be given the maximum terms of penalty listed in their crimes. According to Mr Agim, the jail terms listed for Mr Nyame deserve to be reduced.
He added that the law also provides that where a crime, by its nature, should result in a prison term along with the award of a fine upon conviction, the court cannot decide to choose one option and leave the other.
Consequently; the court set aside the previous judgment and awarded the following sums as fine for various counts of offences along with the prison terms against Mr Nyame:
– For counts 1, 2 and 6; Mr Nyame was sentenced to 12 years in prison, with N100 million fine, each making N300 million.
– For count 8; Mr Nyame was sentenced also to 12 years, but with N50 million fine.
– For counts 10, 12 and 14; Mr Nyame was sentenced to the same 12 years, but with 20 million fine, each totalling N60 million.
– Regarding counts 16, 18, 20, 27, 29, 30, 31, and 32 Mr 12 years, with a fine of N10 million each which totalled N80 million.
– The ruling for count 36 was also 12 years, but with a fine of N5 million.
– For counts 9, 11, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, and 21, Mr Nyame was sentenced to a year and nine months, each without fine.
– Counts four and five attracted a jail term of five years, each without fine.
Since all the sentences are to run concurrently, Mr Nyame was thus jailed a total 12 years and a fine of N495 million.